Over the past year, I have been involved with a grass-roots effort to honor two Louisiana natives from Pointe Coupee and West Feliciana parishes who are true American heroes who have served our country, proved their mettle and sacrifice in battle, and achieved the pinnacle of their profession, becoming commandants of the Marine Corps.
Gens. John Lejeune and Robert Barrow were born and raised within 10 miles of each other, separated by the Mississippi River and a number of years. The opportunity to rename the new Audubon Bridge, connecting these parishes, is unique to our state and in our nation.
Our effort, being voluntary, had no budget and spent no money. House Bill 200, introduced in the Legislature, to rename the bridge would have cost the state of Louisiana exactly zero ($0.00) dollars. The bill was passed by the House in an 86-0 vote (with 61 co-sponsors).
Over the past 20 years, the Zachary Taylor Parkway Commission has spent $300,000 (by its own admission) in branding/advertising the structure as the John James Audubon Bridge.
In the Senate Transportation Committee, the bill was gutted by an amendment to retain the Audubon name and to name the approaches on each side of the bridge in honor of Lejeune and Barrow, as well as to require the state to build monuments.
The ZTPC indicated there was between $300,000 and $600,000 left in the bridge construction funds (original funding $100 million; final cost $400 million) to create the monuments.
Sen. Joe McPherson, D-Woodworth, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, characterized his amendment as a compromise.
As part of the group and effort to rename the bridge, I can tell you that we did not agree to this ‘compromise’ and categorically opposed it; regardless, it was passed by the Senate with the amendment. The bill will now cost the state of Louisiana $300,000, or more, to implement. At this time Louisiana is experiencing rough financial times and trying to cut costs throughout all governmental responsibilities.
Subsequently, the House passed HB200 as amended by the Senate, and the bill has been signed by the governor.
I, for one (and know of many others who), will assist in any manner to honor the generals out of respect for their tremendous service to our country. We still believe it is appropriate to rename the bridge that links the home parishes of two great Louisiana heroes. We will continue to explore opportunities to rename the bridge.
If any funds are left over from building the bridge, its approaches or the Zachary Taylor Parkway, those moneys should rightfully be returned to the state.
Friends of Lejeune-Barrow