After months of study, a special highway panel should focus on short-term fixes in 2015 rather than any push to trim Louisiana’s $12 billion backlog of road and bridge needs, a Senate leader said.
“I think short term is what you have to look at,” said Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Robert Adley, R-Benton. “Dealing with the rest of it is going to take some longer-term plans.”
Adley made his comments just days before the final meeting of the Transportation Funding Task Force, which includes Adley, other key lawmakers, and the current and former secretaries of the state Department of Transportation and Development.
The panel is set to hold its final meeting at 1 p.m. Monday.
Recommendations are due to the Legislature by Jan. 15.
The 2015 legislative session begins April 13.
The hearings unfolded amid differing views on what direction the panel should go — modest changes in a lame-duck session of the Legislature or a long-shot bid to tackle the state’s staggering list of transportation needs.
Adley, who is term-limited and will be serving his final year in the Senate, said he favors the former, especially since a new governor and Legislature will take office in 2016.
“There is going to be a new administration, a new group,” he said. “They are going to have to face that and deal with it accordingly.”
Adley repeated his view that the task force should get behind a plan to ensure that the state spends $70 million for preservation, which is now getting about $27 million annually.
“My primary focus is trying to lock in that $70 million annually that is needed to maintain our current system,” he said.
“That takes care of all our roads off the interstate,” Adley said.
“We have to find a way to get that done,” he said. “The needs are more than $12 billion, but you have to begin somewhere.”
How to do that is unclear.
Adley has repeatedly said the state should take another look at the $60 million in transportation dollars that are diverted to State Police.
State Police Superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson said the money is used in all of Louisiana’s nine State Police troops for salaries, benefits and fuel costs to patrol highways.
Adley said the state should consider coming up with a formula on exactly how much State Police need annually for highway management.
DOTD Secretary Sherri LeBas said Wednesday that enhanced road preservation aid would dovetail with her top transportation aim — safety — as long as it does not entail a tax hike.
LeBas also said the $27 million that Adley has cited as the minimum amount needed applies only to state funds, not federal aid for upkeep.
Another modest possibility for generating more transportation dollars is to change how much parishes get from the state for local road needs.
Motorists pay 38.4 cents per gallon in Louisiana for state and federal taxes.
That includes 16 cents for rank-and-file projects and 4 cents for 16 projects that voters approved in 1989, including the new bridge that connects New Roads and St. Francisville.
Parishes are supposed to get 1 cent of the gas tax, amounting to about $30 million per year. However, they actually get 1.5 cents — about $46 million — and have done so for years.
Adley noted that trimming state aid for parish roads to 1 cent would free up $16 million for road preservation work statewide.
“That clearly doesn’t seem to be very popular, but I think it is the thing to do,” he said.
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