Baton Rouge area lawmakers made pleas Wednesday for scarce road and bridge money during one in a series of public hearings on Louisiana’s transportation needs.
The House and Senate transportation committees heard from lawmakers who represent the capital region — District 61 — as well as other elected officials and rank-and-file citizens.
Shawn Wilson, secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development, noted that the state has a $12.7 billion backlog of road and bridge repairs.
Wilson said that, unless the state starts addressing the list, previous transportation investments will be further compromised.
“If you give me more money I will deliver new projects,” Wilson told the committees.
Projects touted by lawmakers include construction of a new bridge over the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge; expansion of Interstate 10 between Highland Road and Gonzales and widening U.S. 61/Airline Highway between Gonzales and Baton Rouge.
State road and bridge problems have sparked arguments and complaints for years, but the Legislature has been unable to agree on any sweeping solutions.
In addition, the state faces a $2.7 billion shortfall over the next 17 months.
State Rep. Johnny Berthelot, R-Gonzales, said if revenue-raising legislation for transportation emerges from the committees he will support it.
The 2016 regular legislative session starts March 14, which is when any such bills would be heard.
Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Kenny Havard, R-St. Francisville, said the state has to ensure that dollars are not diverted from the state’s key source of road and bridge work because of other “priorities.
“When you are sitting in traffic your priorities change,” Havard said.
Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, said she is concerned about the lack of projects in the northern part of East Baton Rouge Parish.
Barrow also said any Baton Rouge-New Orleans rail line should extend to Southern University.
Ken Perret, president of the Louisiana Good Roads and Transportation Association, said the top concern when manufacturers are scouting locations is a quality transportation system.
“But we have to be willing to make the investment,” Perret told the committees. “Wishing it won’t make it so.”
Perret’s group has called for a 10-cent boost in the state gasoline tax, which would raise about $280 million per year.
Motorists now pay 38.4 cents per gallon, including 20 cents in state taxes.
Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell. For more coverage of government and politics, follow our Politics Blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.