Panel approves sweeping road, bridge improvements but unsure where funding will come from _lowres

Advocate file photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- A DOTD sign warns drivers of congestion on westbound Interstate 10 into East Baton Rouge Parish by way of the Mississippi River Bridge, Friday, July 25, 2014 in West Baton Rouge.

A key state panel Thursday approved a blueprint for sweeping Louisiana road and bridge improvements, with one huge catch — it all requires a major infusion of money.

The list includes widening Interstate 10 between the I-10 Mississippi River Bridge and the I-10/12 split; making I-10 eight lanes between Williams Boulevard and Veterans Boulevard in New Orleans and major work on I-49 South in and near Lafayette.

But Eric Kalivoda, deputy secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development, said it would take $700 million in new state and federal dollars to do those and other projects, which is highly unlikely anytime soon.

“So we want to be prepared for whatever happens, even for a funding reduction,” Kalivoda said in an interview after the meeting.

The blueprint that won approval is called the Louisiana Statewide Transportation Plan, which is a list of projects of varying priorities the state wants to do when the dollars are available.

It is an update of a list approved in 2003, and the committee’s vote ends the review process.

Some of those projects, including the widening of I-10 and I-12 in Baton Rouge, were finished amid state surpluses in 2007.

The latest plan was okayed without dissent by the nine-member policy committee that oversaw the more than three years of revisions.

The panel includes DOTD Secretary Sherri LeBas, House and Senate leaders and others.

The action comes amid continuing state budget problems and uncertainty on how the next governor plans to tackle transportation problems.

In May, the Legislature’s rejected a plan to raise $7.5 billion over 10 years for roads and bridges.

“We are sort of back to square one,” said Robert Travis Scott, president of the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana and a member of the committee.

The plans that get the most attention from motorists — they are called megaprojects — are grouped in priorities A, B, C and D.

Those in priority A, such as widening I-10 in Baton Rouge, would be at the head of the line if there is any sort of financial windfall.

Scenarios range from outright funding reductions to rosy outlooks, including a $700 million injection of state and federal dollars above current revenue.

That could launch 39 major projects, including a northern bypass toll road in Baton Rouge, either with an upgraded U.S. 190 Mississippi River Bridge or a new one.

Kalivoda noted DOTD is already studying five possible sites for a new bridge between the I-10 structure and the Sunshine Bridge, which is also dependent on dollars that are not available today.

Aside from the list approved Thursday, the state has a $12 billion backlog of road and bridge needs, and not enough to do the $70 million annually considered the minimum needed for road and bridge upkeep.

LeBas said the state will get closer to that maintenance spending figure starting on July 1 when more state dollars are retained for transportation instead of being moved to State Police.

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