Gas Tax

Louisiana Transportation and Development Secretary Shawn Wilson, right, speaks in support of a gasoline tax increase bill by Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, left, on Tuesday, May 16, 2017.

Louisiana faces rising driver frustrations, more expensive projects and poorly-rated roads and bridges because of the death of a push to increase the state gas tax, state transportation chief Shawn Wilson said Thursday.

In addition, Wilson said the state's new focus is on preserving roads and bridges rather than building new ones because of the lack of new state aid.

"The cliff is here," he said.

Wilson made his comments to a conference hosted by the American Council of Engineering Companies of Louisiana.

Earlier this year a Wilson-backed bid to increase the state gas tax by 17 cents per gallon, and raise about $500 million per year for roads and bridges, died in the Legislature without a floor vote in either chamber.

Opponents said that, despite complaints about daily  traffic backups, they were unwilling to pay higher taxes to tackle Louisiana's roughly $13 billion backlog of road and bridge needs.

Motorists pay 38.4 cents in taxes per gallon, including 20 cents in state charges.

Wilson, who is secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development, said a recent D-plus ranking by a national group for state transportation conditions is deserved.

Putting off upgrades also carries a pricetag, he said.

"The longer it takes me to get it out the door the more expensive it is going to be," Wilson said of projects.

The lack of new dollars also ensures prolonged traffic problems, higher vehicle maintenance costs and backups like those that have plagued the Baton Rouge area on Tuesday and Wednesday, he said.

"And the citizens are going to say, unfortunately, it is DOTD's fault," Wilson said.

One year ago, at the same conference, Wilson told the group about hopes and plans for finding new transportation dollars during the 2017 regular legislative session.

He disputed comments from lawmakers that he has been whining since that effort failed.

"I will tell you both the governor and I are proud of the work we have done," Wilson said.

"We believe we moved the ball much further than it has ever been in the past 30 years," he said. "That is something that will help us the next time we have that conversation."

No new gas tax debate is expected before 2021 because of legislative rules and political concerns.

"I believe, as I hope you believe, that people still care about transportation," Wilson said.

"The issue isn't going away," he said. "The challenges, the pavement conditions, it is not going to get better."

"As it worsens the outcry and the plea for funding will be much louder."


Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.