The co-chairman of a task force that is supposed to come up with solutions for Louisiana’s road and bridge problems said Monday this one is different from previous studies.
“I think first and foremost, this study is being driven by the governor,” said Shawn Wilson, secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development and one of the leaders of the review panel.
Wilson noted that previous efforts to find ways to finance transportation improvements took place amid opposition to tax hikes by former Gov. Bobby Jindal.
“I think (Edwards) is open to having a very broad dialogue, unlike the legislatures in the past where you had some executive leadership that was not necessarily interested in making a new investment in infrastructure,” he said.
“We have that now,” Wilson said.
Edwards on Friday issued an executive order setting up the task force.
The panel will have up to 18 members and, unlike previous reviews, will include leaders from the Legislature, trade groups and private industry.
The list includes House Speaker Taylor Barras or his designee; Senate President John Alario or his designee; the chairmen of the House and Senate transportation committees; the executive directors of the Louisiana Municipal Association and Louisiana Police Jury Association and others.
Wilson said he hopes to have the first meeting before the July 4.
The task force faces twin challenges.
One is the state’s $12.7 billion backlog of road and bridge needs, including maintenance.
The other is a $10.5 billion list of mega projects, like construction of a new Mississippi River bridge south of Baton Rouge that would cost about $1 billion.
However, the panel is not trying to come up with $23 billion all at once.
“We realize you cannot address it in one action nor can you address it all immediately,” Wilson said. “You will continue to have elements of this moving forward as we evolve this process.”
Wilson said the task force wants to hear from citizens “on what they are willing to accept.”
He said any final recommendation will try to strike a balance between preserving the current system and new construction.
“If we just concentrate on building new stuff, we will have another major problem somewhere else in our system,” he said.
“We have to do a little bit of both, and that is where we hope to use the task force to talk to citizens to get the best formula for how you do that.
“Is it 50-50? 60-40? Is it project specific? Those are questions that have yet to be answered,” Wilson said.