Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday he would be inclined to sign legislation to finance a major road project in West Baton Rouge Parish if it wins final approval.

Edwards also said prospects appear bright in the push to employ innovative financing for building the Louisiana Highway 415 connector nearly half a century after it was conceived.

The proposal would revamp spending plans using the financial settlement from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill.

"As best I can tell there is little to no opposition to redirecting those monies," he said.

The work would erect a 3-mile flyover between the La. 415/Lobdell exit and La. Hwy. 1 between Port Allen and Plaquemine.

The governor made his comments one day after the state House gave lopsided approval to the measure after a lengthy debate. The vote was 97-4 and followed several failed attempts to to re-divvy the money.

The legislation, House Bill 578, next faces action in the state Senate with less than three weeks left in the 2019 session.

That debate, like the House discussion, is sure to spark efforts by senators to garner funds for projects in their own areas.

But the governor's comments could give the bill a boost, especially after the administration earlier exercised a wait-and-see approach to the bill.

Sen. Rick Ward III, R-Port Allen, is expected to handle the measure.

Louisiana is set to get about $700 million in the next 13 years under the settlement.

The money is scheduled to arrive in $53 million yearly increments.

Under a 2014 state law, 45% of the money goes to Louisiana's rainy day fund, 45% to the Medicaid Trust Fund and 10% to the Health Trust Fund.

Edwards said the settlement is to reimburse the state for expenses, not to address damages caused along the coast.

The bill would re-allocate $25 million per year for five years for the La. 415 connector and $25 million annually for five years to build an 8-mile stretch of elevated highway between Golden Meadow and Leeville.

After that, the roughly $400 million or so remainder would be used for bridges, maintenance, safety projects and new construction.

Backers contend the La. 415 project would ease daily traffic problems on La. 1, on and near the "new" Mississippi River bridge and the heavily-traveled Intracoastal Bridge.

They also say that, with the state facing a $14 billion backlog of road and bridge needs, prospects are dim for any other funding source.

"The position is we are looking for money for infrastructure projects," Edwards told reporters.

He said that, while the money was first earmarked for the rainy day fund and other sources, lawmakers have a legitimate right to now say there are pressing infrastructure needs.

The governor said the state is using federal bonds, called GARVEE, to finance the widening of Interstate 10 in Baton Rouge between the bridge and the split and other projects as well as public-private partnerships.

"We are looking for these opportunities," he said.

"I am happy to keep working with the Legislature on this particular instrument," Edwards said of the bill.

He said that, depending on what happens to the legislation, "my inclination would certainly be to sign it."

The La. 415 connector would cost about $145 million.

The La. 1 upgrade would cost $343 million.

If the legislation wins final approval those funds would be used to draw federal aid to complete both projects.

  


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