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The Interstate 10 bridge connecting East and West Baton Rouge Parishes crosses a swollen and fast moving Mississippi River, Thursday, June 13, 2019, in downtown Baton Rouge, La.

A seven-member panel set up to find ways to finance a new bridge across the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge launched a hunt for a consultant Monday to lead the effort.

The aim is to have a consultant in place by the end of 2019, said Eric Kalivoda, deputy secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development.

The final decision is up to DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson, who is a member of the Capital Area Road and Bridge District.

The district was authorized by the Legislature last year in a bid to find ways to finance a new bridge, which would cost at least $1 billion.

Traffic on and near the half-century old "new" Mississippi River bridge is a source of daily complaints and backups.

However, the state has a $14 billion backlog of road and bridge needs, which means a state-funded bridge is not on the radar anytime soon.

Officials have said a public-private partnership is likely the best way to make the project happen.

Kalivoda said he hopes to have advertisements for the consulting work ready by the end of the month.

Under the plan, DOTD officials will spell out minimum requirements for the consulting work.

Proposals will be scored by state officials.

Once the search is narrowed to three applicants that trio will undergo oral interviews, with input from members of the district.

Those members include East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks and Ascension Parish President Kenny Matassa.

The consultant's work is a two-prong project.

Part of the assignment includes spelling out the need for a new bridge, existing plans, cost estimates, traffic and toll revenue analysis for alternate routes and what state and federal permits will be required.

The other focus is the environmental impact involved in building a new bridge.

It includes noise and air studies, surveys of endangered species and community impact.

The environmental study typically takes two years.

Sen. Rick Ward III, R-Port Allen, whose 2018 legislation set up the seven-member panel, said the Legislature approved $5 million in the just-completed session to finance the required environmental impact statement.

Ward noted that, even if the state had the money to build a new bridge today, the environmental work would have to be done before construction could begin.

The $5 million was a priority of the Capital Area Legislative Delegation and was backed by Gov. John Bel Edwards.

"The governor does think this is a major priority," Mark Cooper, Edwards' chief of staff, told the panel.

District members also agreed that the approaches to the new bridge will be conventional highways that connect La. 1 on the west side of the river with La. 30 on the east side.

Both highways would be widened and upgraded in separate projects.


Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.