The Department of Transportation and Development and Gov. John Bel Edwards are committed to investing in infrastructure and making the needs of our citizens a priority by providing a solid foundation for economic growth and a better quality of life. In order to continue doing so, it is crucial for the state to have a reliable and steady revenue stream that supports well thought out plans for all modes of transportation.
Now, I realize some citizens are wary of new taxes and question whether the funds will be used efficiently and for the intended purposes. Consider the fact that since 2016, Gov. Edwards and his administration have maintained a policy to ensure any new money goes directly to final design and construction, and the voters wisely cemented that policy in the state’s constitution.
In reality, when it comes to the gas tax, most drivers pay less than $125 per year. But that tax is the only funding source for state highways.
Since 2016, DOTD has invested $2 billion in Louisiana’s transportation infrastructure. That’s a large number, but it pales in comparison to what’s needed to meet our backlog of road repair and maintenance. Because of limited resources, this administration has been forced to find innovative ways of securing revenue for our transportation needs. Federal funding sources such as the FASTLANE and INFRA grants, along with GARVEE bonds have allowed us to pursue some of the major projects across the state, which are critical to our economy. These are projects that have been needed for many years, such as the Interstate 10 widening from Highland Road to LA 73 in the Capitol Region and from I-49 to the Atchafalaya Basin in the Acadiana Region. I-10 is an internationally significant freight route and a connector for those traveling coast to coast.
The new Terrace Avenue exit currently under construction in Baton Rouge is another project that has been talked about for years, but we made it happen. DOTD broke ground on this project earlier this year and it is a first step in the larger project to widen I-10.
Despite the many roadblocks in its history, both political and monetary, the proposed I-10 widening from LA 415 to the I-10/I-12 split is becoming a reality. This summer, DOTD held three public meetings to further inform the public of our plans, gather comments, and seek recommendations. We want to build and maintain this corridor such that our future is limitless and not hamstrung by shortsighted planning. More than $350 million in GARVEE bonds will be used to complete a large portion of this project.
The tunnel and bridge replacement in Belle Chasse, DOTD’s first solicited public/private partnership, the Loyola interchange in Kenner, and the Barksdale Air Force Base entrance from I-20 in Bossier City are all megaprojects that have been part of the statewide transportation plan for years, but have not been addressed because of funding issues — that is, until this year. Gov. Edwards and I cut the ribbon on the last project on I-49 North from I-220 in Shreveport to Arkansas.
If we want our economy and quality of life to be competitive with other states for our citizens and visitors, we must provide a safe, effective and efficient roadway system.
Major enhancements require long-term investments and commitment. This administration has a very positive track record for infrastructure improvements. Unfortunately, many of these accomplishments have been possible because of one-time money, which is not sustainable.
The state relies on a 20-cent gas tax to address its infrastructure needs. Of this, more than four cents are already dedicated to the TIMED program debt service until 2045. So, in reality, only 16 cents goes to the Transportation Trust Fund to address our current needs, and due to inflation, it’s worth about seven cents. Costs have increased, but the state’s spending power has not due to ever-increasing vehicle fuel efficiency and alternative fuel use.
Clearly, much more needs to be done and DOTD is ready, willing and able to deliver. DOTD is an efficient and effective organization having undergone numerous reviews in recent years. The programs and projects called for in the Louisiana Statewide Transportation Plan are well thought out and will yield positive economic growth and an improved quality of life for all citizens. Provide the resources, and DOTD will get the job done.
Shawn Wilson is secretary of the state Department of Transportation and Development.