With both Republicans and Democrats, and President Donald Trump, looking for paths toward agreement, we urge the national leadership to find common ground on rebuilding America’s roads, bridges, rails and power grid.
Infrastructure is expensive, but it is needed for future growth, and the president is exactly right to focus on it. Still, we need follow-through from both the executive and legislative branches in Washington, D.C.
But in Louisiana, where the need for the president’s commitment is pressing, state and local taxpayers have to do their parts, too.
"Both parties should be able to unite for a great rebuilding of America's crumbling infrastructure," Trump said in his second State of the Union speech.
Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill applauded the statement and said that it was an area of, hopefully, cooperation with the administration.
That is welcome news in Louisiana, where significant issues face the state, mainly on new bridges but in terms of road and transportation funding generally.
Critical corridors like Interstate 10 are receiving significant improvements today, from Lafayette to the Baton Rouge area and in projects for access to the new Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans. The administration of Gov. John Bel Edwards and the Louisiana delegation in Congress deserve credit for making real progress, even if some of these projects will take years to complete.
However, another bridge to cross the Mississippi River at Baton Rouge and to cross the Calcasieu River at Lake Charles are big-ticket items that will need federal and state funding, and perhaps significant public-private partnerships in the case of the former.
More broadly, though, Louisiana’s eroding gasoline tax — the principal funding source for the Transportation Trust Fund — has not been raised in decades. Inflation has reduced the buying power of the tax to about half of its face value of 16 cents per gallon.
Unfortunately, costs grow. And doubly unfortunately, the current members of the Legislature have resisted raising the gas tax, a seriously head-in-the-sand attitude given the level of need.
Meeting with editors and reporters of The Advocate, Edwards again drew attention to the fact that Louisiana will not have enough money in the trust fund to match its allotment of federal highway funds. That is unprecedented, although ultimately the Legislature will probably shake loose some general fund dollars to make that match. It is too desperately needed.
We believe, with the president’s blessings, that key players can help Louisiana on infrastructure issues. Elaine Chao, the U.S. transportation chief, and Louisiana’s Shawn Wilson are eager to work on these challenges. Louisiana’s delegation includes U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, with deep expertise in infrastructure issues, which should be more bipartisan than many contentious problems.
A lot remains to be done. We urge the president to follow through this year.