May 10-14 will be observed as “United for Infrastructure 2021: A Week to Champion America’s Infrastructure.” With President Biden’s announced visit to Lake Charles, we could not ask for a more prominent kick-off.
Nowhere in the nation are there more needs per capita than in Louisiana and Southwest Louisiana with outdated bridges and roads. State DOTD Secretary Dr. Shawn Wilson says there are over $14 billion in projects needed in the state. This backlog can’t continue and action needs to be taken. President Biden has presented a solution in The American Jobs Act. Included are many components but among those is $600 billion for roads and bridges. Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter joined with Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins to issue a joint letter discussing the need for federal infrastructure support. The two mayors stated there are roughly 13,000 bridges in the state. One thousand six hundred or 12 percent are deemed structurally deficient. Louisiana receives a D+ on its infrastructure scorecard. There are currently 3,411 miles of high in poor condition, costing drivers over $667 in repairs every year.
President Biden will see why the I-10 Bridge at Lake Charles is the national poster child for a major corridor weak link. The Chamber SWLA’s I-10 Task Force has worked for over three years to raise awareness for the need to build a new bridge. Traction is taking place thanks to the support of Governor John Bel Edwards, Secretary Wilson and the state Legislature. Now, we are getting national attention again on this vital project with a presidential visit.
Meanwhile, the process is underway to select a private contractor to design and construct the bridge under a P-3 arrangement, which stands for a public-privatepartnership. The Task Force is urging our federal delegation to support an infrastructure plan so that federal funds can go toward the project to keep a toll, if necessary, as low as possible. Already the state has set aside $114 million of the expected $850 million needed for the new bridge. The Lake Charles Urbanized Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Transportation Policy Committee will meet later this week to finalize their recommendations to the state on the preferred bridge route and design elements.
The Chamber SWLA Task Force is pushing for an iconic design that will enhance Westlake and the Lake Charles lakefront Included in our preference is a shared pedestrian/bike path. The new bridge will probably last about one hundred years, so let’s invest in a bridge that makes a statement to those passing through and brings pride to our area. It goes without saying; the new bridge must include the elevation of Sampson Street over the railroad tracks in Westlake.
There are many needed projects throughout our region, not just the I-10 Bridge. Some of the projects in our region include: Cameron Ferry Landing repairs, Jeff Davis Parish - the US 90 Bayou Bridge, Allen Parish - Reeds Bridge Road over the Calcasieu River, in Beauregard parish- Graybow Road over Palmetto Creek, and the Nelson Road Extension and Bridge over Contraband Bayou in Calcasieu, just to name a few.
Infrastructure also includes our ports, the ship channel, and airports. Without the ship channel our area would be without thousands of jobs. Broadband is now considered vital infrastructure with most of our rural areas not capable of adequate service. Water and sewer systems and electric grids need strengthening.
Infrastructure projects provide a high return on investment and should be supported by both political parties. Mayors Hunter and Perkins from two different parties came together to support The American Jobs Plan and that’s a model we hope will carry over in Washington.
The U.S. Chamber is also pushing for an infrastructure plan with their “Build By The 4th” Campaign. Along with almost 200 organizations in this coalition, the Chamber SWLA / Alliance is pushing for adoption of federal legislation by the 4th of July. With progress being made on COVID relief, and new legislation passed, that would indeed be a 4th to celebrate.