Baton Rouge group encouraged as governor's candidates pledge to find solutions to road, bridge problems _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- Aerial of eastbound traffic on the New Bridge in Baton Rouge, Tuesday, September 1, 2015, as drivers navigate around a stalled 18-wheeler approaching the Washington Street exit at bottom left.

Officials of a coalition of Baton Rouge-area business groups said Tuesday they are encouraged that both candidates for governor have pledged to find ways to solve road and bridge problems.

“The transportation infrastructure crisis facing Baton Rouge is not just a local issue but one of statewide significance, and we are grateful that both gubernatorial candidates acknowledge that reality and expressed support for priority action steps important for future economic expansion,” said Scott Kirkpatrick, executive director of a group called CRISIS.

The acronym stands for Capital Region Industry for Sustainable Infrastructure Solutions.

Members include the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, Baton Rouge General Hospital, Cajun Industries, Lamar Advertising and others.

Democrat John Bel Edwards and Republican David Vitter have been criticized for offering vague plans for area road and bridge improvements, and how to tackle Louisiana’s $12 billion backlog of transportation needs.

Both told CRISIS in questionnaires that they back the group’s five election priorities, including hammering out a consensus road and bridge improvement plan for the Baton Rouge area in concert with area state lawmakers and others.

Edwards, a state representative from Amite, said improvements can be funded in part by capping, phasing out or repealing parts of $7 billion in tax “giveaways” that are not producing for the state’s economy.

In the short term, he said, he would boost spending from roads and bridges from Louisiana’s capital improvements fund by $75 million per year.

During the candidates’ final debate on Monday night, the Democrat called improvements on the Interstate 10 corridor in Baton Rouge the state’s top transportation priority.

Vitter also backed the group’s agenda.

“As governor, I will lead an effort with local legislators, chambers, businesses and other area officials to work together on a concrete plan to improve Baton Rouge’s transportation infrastructure,” the Republican wrote in response to CRISIS.

Vitter also repeated what he said during Monday’s debate — traffic problems near the I-10 Mississippi River bridge in Baton Rouge, and between the bridge and the I-10/12 split, have few rivals.

“That bottleneck is one of the worst in the country, and it is literally bottlenecking our economy,” he said.

Vitter, of Metairie, is Louisiana’s senior U.S. senator.

He said “fundamental spending and tax reform” is one of the keys to finding dollars for road and bridge improvements.

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