Baton Rouge area lawmakers took turns Tuesday spelling out area road and bridge woes – calling a new bridge over the Mississippi River the top priority.
"There has been no major infrastructure going east and west and north and south in over 40 years," said state Sen. Bodi White, R-Central and a candidate for mayor-president on the Nov. 8 ballot.
"That is the problem," White said. "And it all bottlenecks at the Mississippi River bridge."
Traffic congestion has become a "cancer" in the Baton Rouge area, and a new bridge across th…
White and others made their comments to a joint meeting of the House and Senate Transportation committees.
The gathering was the last stop on the joint committee's annual "road show" statewide, which features local lawmakers and officials describing road and bridge problems to the panel and officials of the state Department of Transportation and Development.
A tax increase for transportation is expected to be a key topic of the 2017 regular Legislature.
A task force named by Gov. John Bel Edwards, which meets Thursday in Baton Rouge, is set to make recommendations to the governor by Jan. 1, and a boost in the gasoline tax is expected to be one of the recommendations.
Rep. Edmond Jordan, D-Brusly, echoed White's comments.
"A new Mississippi River bridge is important to this region," Jordan said.
He said it sometimes takes him an hour to travel from Brusly to the State Capitol.
"That is the world we are living in now," Jordan said.
A new bridge south of the one used by most motorists now would cost about $1 billion and take a decade or so to build.
Sen. Dale Erdey, R-Livingston, said he was told years ago that he should have three priorities in the Legislature.
"It was roads, roads, roads," Erdey told the joint panel.
"I am going to finish with four words," Erdey said. "New Mississippi River bridge."
Several lawmakers noted that new aid for transportation would force lawmakers to back tax hikes, which are generally unpopular.
"The question is do we have the political will to do it?" Jordan said. "I think we do. We all hear from our constituents."
Rep. Ed Price, D-Gonzales, said the state needs new revenue for roads and bridges and he will support such a push.
Price also said the Baton Rouge area has to have a new bridge over the Mississippi River.
Motorists pay 38.4 cents per gallon for gasoline.
The state tax is 20 cents of the total, with 16 cents for rank-and-file projects and 4 cents used to pay debts from a 1989 transportation bond issue.
A hike in the gasoline tax of 10 cents per gallon or more is being discussed by members of the governor's task force.
Any such move would require the support of two thirds of the Legislature.
The first increase in Louisiana's gas tax in more than a quarter of a century is all but cer…
Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge, also said money has to be raised to finance transportation improvements.
"A new Mississippi River bridge is very, very important to this region," James said.
Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, said the area deserves a bigger piece of the pie when it comes to transportation dollars because the entire state benefits from economic growth in the state capital.
"We are in a crisis here," Edmonds said.
Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, whose home suffered major damages in the August flood, said state transportation dollars need to be used to lessen the impact of future flooding.
"This could happen again and I am asking you to make this a priority," Hodges said.