Despite a massive backlog of road and bridge projects, the state will have soon diverted $418 million from its key transportation fund to State Police since 2005, officials said Tuesday.
Louisiana has a $12.3 billion backlog of transportation work, which state Transportation Secretary Sherri LeBas said will be “almost impossible” to eliminate amid an always expanding list of proposals.
The issue surfaced during a review of planned spending by the state Department of Transportation and Development by the powerful House Appropriations Committee.
The gathering came just weeks after the completion of work by a special state panel on how to address transportation needs.
Topics on that committee included whether the state should re-examine how much it is diverting from the transportation fund to State Police.
Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Robert Adley, R-Benton, who was co-chairman of that study panel, has repeatedly said the state should do just that, especially at a time of shrinking state aid for road and bridge maintenance.
“There is a general feeling out there that we are cutting the maintenance money,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro.
The 2015 legislative session begins on April 13.
Road woes are a statewide issue, especially in the Baton Rouge area amid near daily backups on and near the Interstate 10 Mississippi River Bridge.
Gov. Bobby Jindal is proposing a standstill, $575 million budget for DOTD for the financial year that begins on July 1.
Under the plan, $71.7 million would be moved from Louisiana’s chief fund for road and bridge projects to State Police — $417.7 million since 2005, according to state budget documents.
Eric Kalivoda, deputy secretary for DOTD, said the diversion of dollars is having an impact.
Kalivoda said the state is generally not pursuing projects that require 20 percent state match with federal dollars because it had to change spending practices to avoid losing federal aid.
“We realize the 80-20 (projects) are in a downward spiral,” Kalivoda said.
He made his comments after state Rep. Jack Montoucet, D-Crowley, complained about road conditions on a four-mile stretch of U.S. 90 between Crowley and Rayne — a potential 80-20 project.
Kalivoda said DOTD’s focus is on work that requires a state match of 10 percent, 5 percent or no match.
State Police Superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson has said the money diverted from transportation funds is used in all nine patrol districts for salaries, benefits and fuel costs.
Another $19 million of state road and bridge dollars is expected to be rerouted to help retire the debt of 16 projects called TIMED that voters approved in 1989.
That amounts to just over half a cent of the 16 cents for rank-and-file projects that motorists pay.
State and federal taxes total 38.4 cents per gallon.
The special state panel — the Transportation Funding Task Force — said the Legislature should consider a wide range of options.
That includes public/private partnerships, linking the state gasoline tax to inflation and allowing local governments to raise revenue for local projects.
LeBas, under questioning from state Rep. Patrick Connick, R-Marrero, said she did not know whether the Jindal administration would back any of panel’s recommended options.
“We all know Gov. Jindal is not for tax increases,” LeBas said.
LeBas said she hopes planned transportation benefits come to fruition — up to $400 million per year in motor vehicle sales tax revenue by 2019.
That scenario stems from a 2009 state law.
However, state leaders disagree on whether the state will meet the required budget thresholds then for such a huge sum to be moved from Louisiana’s general revenue fund to one for road and highway projects only.
Kalivoda said the state plans to boost aid for bridges fivefold — from about $100 million to $500 million annually — with some of that newly-won sales tax money.
Repairs are needed, he said, “or we are going to be closing a lot of bridges.”
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