Edwards announces transportation task force, names Louisiana DOTD chief Shawn Wilson as co-chair _lowres

Photo by Brad Kemp, The Advocate

Gov. John Bel Edwards issued an executive order Friday setting up a task force to study state transportation problems and make recommendations by Jan. 1.

State Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Shawn Wilson will be one of the co-chairs of the panel, which will have up to 18 members.

Edwards will name the other co-chair.

The task force is the latest in a series of efforts to tackle Louisiana’s $12.7 billion backlog of road and bridge projects.

Previous legislative studies have gone nowhere, mostly because lawmakers have been unwilling to enact revenue-raising measures for road and bridge improvements.

Former Gov. Bobby Jindal also opposed tax hikes, which caused some legislators to say there was no point in trying to enact one for transportation.

However, this study has the governor’s backing and appears to be a prelude to action during the 2017 regular legislative session.

The governor previously has said state leaders need to regain voter confidence on how transportation dollars are spent before they seek more financing.

But he also has said he is open to finding more dollars for transportation once state budget problems are resolved, including a $600 million shortfall starting July 1.

The study group will include the president of the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana; the chairmen of the House and Senate transportation committees; the speaker of the House and president of the Senate or their designees; the commissioner of administration or his designee; and two at-large members to be named by Edwards.

Wilson said last month tolls are one option worth considering on transportation problems.

Others mentioned include increasing Louisiana’s gasoline tax, local funding options and public-private partnerships.

Adam Knapp, president and CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, praised creation of the task force.

A BRAC representative may be part of the panel.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.