Tow trucks line up where multiple vehicle crashed on I-12 in Covington, Saturday, May 26, 2018. Three people were reported dead and 13 injured.

Gov. John Bel Edwards says the state lacks the money needed to widen Interstate 12 in St. Tammany Parish at this time despite a May 26 accident in Covington that killed four people.

Parish President Pat Brister wrote a letter to Edwards last week asking for immediate assistance in the wake of the accident.

Brister said that, while there is no way to know whether an expanded I-12 would have prevented the deadly crashes, the incident pointed up the need for accelerated roadwork in one of the state's fastest-growing parishes.

In his response, dated June 1, Edwards said two projects are on the state's to-do list in the area.

One would widen I-12 from La. 21 to U.S. 190. The other would add more lanes on the interstate from U.S. 190 to La. 59.

The cost would be $95 million to $120 million.

"Unfortunately, current resources are insufficient to undertake these and many other needed projects across Louisiana, hence the effort to increase transportation revenues in the 2017 regular session," Edwards wrote.

The governor said that if the Legislature had endorsed a state gasoline tax recommended by his task force, "both of these I-12 widening projects would have been fully funded and one, or possibly both, would be under construction today."

A plan backed by the Edwards administration would have boosted the gas tax by 17 cents per gallon, raising about $500 million per year. It died last year without a vote in the full House or Senate.

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Louisiana has a backlog of road and bridge needs that totals about $14 billion. However, any renewed push for more road and bridge dollars is unlikely before 2021 because of legislative rules and political considerations.

Edwards also said in his letter that the state has spent more than $400 million on I-12 in the past decade, including over $100 million in St. Tammany Parish.

After the accident, the state began what officials call a road safety assessment aimed at coming up with short-term solutions.

One option would be placing warning lights along parts of I-12 to let motorists know about traffic congestion.

Similar warning lights operate on Interstate 10 around Lobdell and west toward the Atchafalaya Basin because of regular backups on the Mississippi River bridge in Baton Rouge.

The lights also were suggested by state Rep. Reid Falconer, R-Mandeville, whose legislative district is near the site of the accident.

The accident consisted of multiple crashes involving two 18-wheelers and other vehicles. Aside from the four deaths, including two Baton Rouge residents, about a dozen people were injured.

"It is our understanding that driver inattention or distraction is the likely underlying cause of this horrific crash," Edwards wrote. 

"Driver distraction has reached alarming levels across our nation; however, an effective strategy for countering this has yet to emerge."

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.