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Infrastructure week highlights crisis

Posted by: George Swift on Thursday, May 20, 2021

Last week focused attention on the growing need for investment in our crumbling roads and bridges. “United for Infrastructure 2021: A week to Champion America’s Infrastructure” had a major development for a new I-10 Bridge in Lake Charles. One week after President’s Biden’s visit to Lake Charles to make the case for an Infrastructure bill with the I-10 Bridge in the background, The Lake Charles Urbanized Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (LCMPO) passed a resolution regarding the desires of the local group to be presented to LADOT. 

The MPO consists of the Mayors of Lake Charles, Sulphur and Westlake, a representative of the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury, and the LADOT district engineer. Members of the Chamber SWLA I-10 Bridge Task Force attended the meeting and presented a request for certain elements to be included in the new bridge. The recommendation is for Alternative 5G which has been presented in public hearings. 

This would involve a railroad overpass for Westlake. The recommendation also includes an iconic design, cross pistols representative of the current bridge, LED lighting, a pedestrian/bike path, and a cable-stayed design. Task Force Chair Keith DuRousseau and members John Pohorelsky, Jim Rock, Denise Rau, Bart Yakupzack, Dr. Daryl Burckel, and I attended. These and the full Task Force members thank the MPO for their support and recommendations. 

This will be a multi-generational bridge and will make a statement about our area. The design needs to be more than just a concrete slab. LADOT is receiving requests for qualifications for a P-3 (public-private-partnership) project which will involve selecting a contractor to design, build, and operate the bridge with a toll. 

The Chamber SWLA is advocating for additional federal funding which at best could fund the entire cost of the bridge or at least keep the toll, if necessary, as low as possible. Currently in Washington there are negotiations among Republicans and the Biden Administration to determine the size of a federal infrastructure plan and the funding mechanism. 

We are confident that a plan will be adopted and are encouraging a compromise be worked out as soon as possible. The Chamber SWLA supports “Build By The Fourth,” a campaign by the U.S. Chamber to get the legislation passed by the 4th of July. 

A major incident last week pointed out the crisis in our nation. Inspectors were checking the structure of the six-lane Hernando DeSoto Bridge on I-40 at Memphis and a significant fracture was discovered in one of two steel beams that are crucial for the bridge’s integrity. The bridge has traffic of about 50,000 vehicles a day with about 25% being trucks. Immediately the bridge was shut down and traffic diverted causing huge delays in Memphis and neighboring West Memphis, Arkansas. Engineers are determining how long repairs will take and some said it could be months. Former Lake Charles Mayor Randy Roach and Mrs. Roach were returning from a grandchildren visit in Indiana and were delayed for some time by the bridge closure. “This fracture in the bridge shows how fragile our nation’s roads and bridges are”, said the former mayor. That bridge is 48 years old. Traffic is being diverted to I-55 to a 71 year-old bridge. Most all of us agree the need is there. We urge congress to act. We don’t want our I-10 Bridge to make headlines like the bridge in Memphis. 

George Swift is president/CEO of the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance. Contact him at 337-433-3632 or gswift@allianceswla.org.

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