When President Trump’s motorcade drove over the I-10 bridge in Lake Charles last week, a major breakthrough occurred in advocating for a new bridge. For many years, the Chamber SWLA has been communicating with our federal delegation about the need for a new bridge. With the establishment of the I-10 Task Force, serious investigations into all aspects of this project were undertaken on the local level.
The Task Force presented its recommendations in January. Support was gathered from our Louisiana State Legislative delegation and local elected officials. Meetings have been held with Gov. John Bel Edwards as well as two announced candidates for governor, Congressman Ralph Abraham and Baton Rouge contractor Eddie Rispone. Several meetings have been held with the Secretary of Louisiana Department of Transportation, Dr. Shawn Wilson. DOTD brought a team of worldwide experts to the SEED Center to meet with the Task Force for a workshop on publicprivate partnerships.
Last week was National Infrastructure Week spearheaded by the US Chamber of Commerce. Earlier this year, the I-10 bridge was featured in a national news release by Americans for Transportation Mobility, a US Chamber initiative.
In January, Chamber Board Chair Phil Earhart led our mission to DC where we discussed the bridge with our federal delegation and their staffs. Sen. Bill Cassidy, Sen. John Kennedy, Congressmen Clay Higgins, Ralph Abraham, Mike Johnson, Garret Graves, Steve Scalise, and Cedric Richmond have all heard our bridge story. Meeting with the chiefs of staff and staff members who handle specific infrastructure issues is beginning to pay off.
Alliance/Chamber meetings in DC and having a strong recommendation from the Task Force moved the needle. We were told during our research, that there were no federal or state funds for our new bridge. That’s why the Task Force supports reasonable tolls to pay for it.
The much discussed National Infrastructure Plan has not been formulated but the information we received is that the roughly $1.5 trillion would consist of 80 percent private funds and 20 percent federal funds. Any additional funding that can be secured from state, federal, or litigation proceeds from the 1994 chemical spill can pay down the bridge costs which would result in lower tolls.
We want to thank Congressman Higgins who told Alliance/Chamber staff in DC about two years ago, that our region needs to come together with one voice on this project. In the past, agencies and elected officials sent mixed messages to federal officials. We now have a unified message and plan. Congressman Steve Scalise, Sen. Bill Cassidy, and Sen. John Kennedy rode in the presidential limousine over the I-10 bridge and used that opportunity to bring the outdated bridge to the president’s attention.
While we appreciate the president’s pledge to build a new bridge after his reelection, this does not solve steps left to be done. Number one is completion of the Environmental Impact Study (EIS). The date for completion has been pushed back several times with the latest projected date of 2021. We are told by DOTD that only when the EIS is complete can the project move forward. Funding will need to be resolved, utilizing any and all sources available.
In the meantime, with the presidential attention, supportive candidates for Governor, and tremendous support from citizens of Southwest Louisiana, this is the time to make a new bridge happen. For too many years, this aging bridge has been a weak link in the I-10 corridor from California to Florida. Now is the time for action. The Chamber SWLA and the Task Force will keep this project in the forefront until it’s done.