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Now is the time to pull together

Posted by: George Swift on Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Voter turnout was very disappointing in our recent major election for governor and all statewide officials, the entire Louisiana Legislature, police jury, sheriff, and local positions. Statewide, about 50 percent of voters turned out, but Calcasieu had about 45 percent turnout in most races. A majority of 45 percent means that about 25-30 percent of our voters chose our elected officials.

Most candidates worked nonstop to earn your vote and they deserved better.

Louisiana voters have chosen John Bel Edwards to serve a second term as our governor. They also have elected a large number of Republicans to the Louisiana House and State Senate. This could set up a stalemate.

However, there are too many vital issues that need attention. It would be impressive, and against a national trend, if the governor and Legislature could work on some of the issues in a bipartisan fashion such as early childhood education, support for higher education, health care, tax reform and many others.

Most agree our infrastructure, meaning roads and bridges, are in terrible shape. There is a $14 billion backlog, if not more. The Calcasieu Ship Channel needs funding for dredging.

So how do we fund these projects? Most Republicans say cut the budget and re-allocate the funds. With about 80 percent of the state’s general fund dedicated to specific items such as education and law enforcement that seems unlikely..

A gas tax such as passed in Republican Alabama could provide a long-term solution. However, most Republicans ran on “no new taxes.” Compromise will be needed if we are to solve these issues. We don’t have four years to waste on political sparring.

There is no area in the state with infrastructure needs greater than Southwest Louisiana.

A new I-10 Bridge at Lake Charles is crucial. President Trump said he would build us a new bridge, if re-elected. However, he gave no specifics about the funding. Congressman Clay Higgins, and Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy are working to determine the level of federal funding. In the past, federal interstate projects have been funded with 90 percent of the money coming from the federal government and 10 percent from the state.

Gov. Edwards announced in August that he would put $85 million in the 2020 state capital outlay bill which should cover the state’s share if a traditional funding model is used. By working together on the local, state and federal level without regard to political party, a new bridge can be built with construction beginning in about two years.

On a bright note, re-construction of the I-210 Bridge over the Calcasieu River is almost complete. Travel along the 210 is now manageable. We all have suffered through the last year of one lane in each direction while the bridge was basically rebuilt.

There’s excitement as you drive over the bridge with two lanes in each direction. That project was originally planned for three years. Can you imagine the devastating effect on business, industry, and individuals?

Our local governments and the private sector stepped up to offer financial incentives to the contractor for early completion and the project was slated for one year. Previously, a private and public partnership was established to build the Cove Lane Exit and that was done in record time. The Louisiana Department of Transportation has proven that work can be accomplished at a rapid pace and for that we commend LADOTD.

We now need to turn that energy and focus on the I-10 Bridge. The Southwest region continues to lead the state in industrial projects and in new job growth. The I-10 Bridge is the weak link along the I-10 Corridor from California to Florida. Let’s launch the new year by working together in the public and private sector and “Build Our Bridge.”

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