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Jim Bernhard, chief executive officer of Bernhard Capital Partners, in his office in Baton Rouge on Sept. 11, 2018. 

Is it feasible for a private firm to underwrite a new, $1 billion plus bridge across the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge?

Shawn Wilson, secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development, is not so sure.

But he said, "We welcome unsolicited proposals."

Jim Bernhard, founder of The Shaw Group and how head of a private equity firm, told Talk Radio 107.3 this week he would back a loan needed to build a new bridge across the Mississippi River.

The current "new" bridge is the source of daily backups, accidents and motorist frustration on both sides of the river.

The key issue, Wilson said, is how the state would repay any such loan.

"There is always that million dollar question," he said.

State law since 2001 has allowed for public-private partnerships, which allows firms to help finance public projects in exchange for a long-term revenue stream from the state, plus a profit.

The state is using that method for the first time through the construction of a new, $122 million Belle Chasse movable bridge and tunnel.

But Louisiana has a $14 billion backlog of road and bridge needs, no obvious way to repay $1 billion plus and a gas tax that has not been boosted since 1989.

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In 2015 a state panel killed another unsolicited proposal.

That one, offered by a Fortune 500 engineering firm AECOM, envisioned a $800 million toll road around Baton Rouge.

It was called the Baton Rouge Urban Renewal and Mobility Plan, or BUMP.

The proposal called for linking interstates 10, 12 and 110 and U. S. 61 and U. S. 190 in a new route around Baton Rouge.

Critics said it would have left the state on the hook for up to $397 million in construction costs.

Bernhard is a major supporter of Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome's bid to boost the parish sales tax by half a cent to finance $912 million in area road and bridge projects.

Voters decide that issue on Saturday.

Bernhard, who has discussed his plan with Wilson,  could not be reached for comment.

He is set to address the Press Club of Baton Rouge on Monday.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.