Infrastructure is a word tossed around a lot these days, but nowhere is it more important than here in Southwest Louisiana. With our area leading the nation in industrial growth and job creation, the pressure on our infrastructure is growing daily. It’s becoming a crisis situation and our region deserves priority from the state and federal government to help us solve these issues. We have been overlooked for too long.
The most obvious issue to motorists is the need for a new I-10 bridge over the Calcasieu River at Lake Charles. The Chamber SWLA’s I-10 Task Force has recommended a plan that can get this project moving in a timely fashion. As said, when the recommendations were announced, it will take a change in mindset to get a new bridge built. The plan calls for the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development to issue “RFPs,” requests for proposals, to select a private company to design, construct and pay for the facility with tolls. This is being done all over the nation. Why can’t SW La. be a pioneer in our state? With electronic tolling, there are no toll booths and rates can be adjusted for locals as well for different times of day. With the state and federal government unable to pay for the project, this seems the only way to make a new bridge happen. With major industrial growth and increased traffic, pressure is mounting.
The other main infrastructure challenge is the Calcasieu River Ship Channel. Were it not for the ship channel we would not have the billions of dollars in LNG and chemical facilities being built. To keep the ship channel dredged to its authorized depth is costly and failure to act would be detrimental to these projects. A Cameron/ Calcasieu Navigation District has been established and at some point voters will be asked to increase property taxes to keep the channel dredged and continue creating a growing economy.
Air service is key to thriving communities. We are fortunate to have Lake Charles Regional Airport serving our area. Currently there are three roundtrip flights daily on United Airlines to Houston and three roundtrip flights on American Airlines to Dallas/Fort Worth. Interestingly, American has now overtaken United in passengers to and from Lake Charles. Additional airline service is needed to the east. Each time you fly out of Lake Charles Regional, you are helping to keep the airline service here and to make the case for increased air service. In addition to passenger service at LCH, other area airports provide service to private and business aircraft. Chennault Airpark’s 10,000 foot runway can accommodate any aircraft, including Air Force One.
Perhaps, it’s time for a Presidential trip to Lake Charles and Southwest Louisiana to see how a national infrastructure program could positively impact our region, state, and nation. The I-10 Bridge could be utilized as an example of public-private partnerships. Federally funding our ports and ship channels would result in increased industrial growth and jobs. Replacing the obsolete ferries in Cameron Parish is crucial, since several LNG facilities will be built there. Lack of a dependable way to cross the ship channel in Cameron hampers commerce and public safety. Additional LNG facilities will make our nation less dependent on foreign oil.
We have a great story to tell about Southwest Louisiana. Getting our elected officials at the state and federal level to realize the return on investment here could be a beacon for the entire nation and its infrastructure backlog.