Louisiana top transportation official is a regular commuter, so Shawn Wilson's a consumer of his product. These days, the head of the Department of Transportation and Development can also see the result of his agency's work almost all the way into his office from his home near Louisiana Avenue in Lafayette.
On Interstate 10, rebuilding of the heavily used highway to the Atchafalaya Basin is underway. At Baton Rouge, there is work on the I-10 bridge to end the bottleneck and improve safety, a long-sought goal of the department.
If Wilson continues toward New Orleans, he's driving along the urban part of the interstate that is to be widened under a new funding plan he pushed, and there's the widening of the I-10 toward Gonzales under construction.
If Wilson went on to New Orleans, there would be other projects where funding has been put into place, including the early work on a much-needed new exit for the new Louis Armstrong International Airport.
The problem, as Wilson pointed out recently to the Press Club of Baton Rouge, is that almost all of this needed work is being paid for with what he called one-time money.
State and federal officials have reached agreement on plans for Louisiana to borrow up to $650 million to widen Interstate 10 in Baton Rouge a…
The projects aren’t being funded by the day-to-day fuel taxes that are the mainstay of the state's highway program. Instead, they’re paid for through special federal grants, some of them won in competition with other states, such as the I-10 corridor to Lafayette.
Big projects like the I-10 widening in Baton Rouge and the New Orleans airport exit are part of a special bond program that will borrow against future federal highway funding to generate the money for today's projects.
In every case, Wilson pointed out that these projects have to be maintained and repaired over the long term, from keeping the pavement intact to cutting the grass. Louisiana's overstretched transportation funding has to pay for maintenance, match federal funds annually and then find new dollars for expansions.
That doesn’t add up for the future.
While these projects are under construction, in some cases for years, taxpayers might get the impression that Louisiana is making the long-term investments needed.
But because of the Legislature’s failure to raise the gasoline tax, the basic state funding for transportation has not been increased in decades. That means Louisiana's capacity to grow economically is facing a future bottleneck.
While we commend Louisiana’s congressional delegation, the governor, DOTD and others responsible for securing transportation dollars from Washington, we can't depend on getting lucky all the time at the casino of federal funding. State government will have to kick in more, too.