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Louisiana getting $216M to connect New Orleans to Lafayette, other transportation projects



MONROE, La. – Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Monday the state is getting $216 million in transportation aid from one of the federal stimulus bills, including $50 million to advance work on Interstate 49 in Lafayette.

The assistance also features $20 million to aid local transportation planning agencies in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Lafayette and Shreveport and $29 million toward construction of a new bridge on Interstate 10 in Lake Charles.

The dollars stem from a $1.4 trillion stimulus measure that Congress approved in December, including $10 billion for transportation nationwide.

“As you are all aware, the state’s roads and bridges are in great need of repair and upgrade,” Edwards said in a statement that accompanied his announcement.

“Addressing these needs has been a priority of my administration.”

“We have proven what we can do when we have funds and have invested over $3 billion in infrastructure since 2016 despite a 1980s revenue stream as the main source of funding,” he said.

Edwards said the allocation includes $35 million to ensure the state has enough money to qualify for all of the federal matching funds it is eligible for, which is periodically an issue amid the state’s $14 billion backlog of road and bridge needs.

The federal aid is aimed at helping states that suffered revenue losses because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Less driving meant less state revenue from the gas tax, which is the key source of funding.

Louisiana collects 38.4 cents per gallon, including 20 cents per gallon in state charges.

Traffic plunged dramatically, especially in the early months of the pandemic, as workers did their jobs from home rather than offices.

“We will certainly use these funds to replace funds that were lost as a result of the coronavirus and apply them to some of the most needed projects in all regions of Louisiana,” said Shawn Wilson, secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development. “Unlike previous federal bills, these funds can be used for operating costs,” Wilson said, including the replacement of heavy equipment in district transportation offices.

The money cannot cover salaries, supplies or travel.

Exactly how the I-49 money will be used has not been determined.

The state’s long-range plan is to connect New Orleans and Lafayette with an upgraded U.S. 90 that becomes I-49 South. The work amounts to elevating U. S. 90 to interstate standards.

The high speed, limited access roadway would travel from the West Bank of New Orleans, past the bayou communities of St. Charles, Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes, through Morgan City, and connect with I-49 in Lafayette.

Backers contend the roadway would connect ports in New Orleans and elsewhere with industries in the Midwest and oil industry suppliers and manufacturers between New Orleans and Houston.

A heavy contingent of Lafayette-area lawmakers was on hand for the governor’s announcement.

However, a price-tag of up to $5 billion has been a longtime obstacle to making I-49 South a reality.

Other parts of the aid package would provide $11.3 million for electric vehicle charging stations statewide and $26 million to highway district offices

The $216 million includes 17 preservation projects, mostly roadway overlay work that costs $2 million or $3 million per project.

Earlier there were signs that the 2021 regular legislative session, which began its second week Monday, would include a debate on whether to increase the state gas tax.

Rep. Jack McFarland, R-Jonesboro, initially proposed a bill that would boost the gas tax by 10 cents per gallon initially, and 22 cents eventually, before he decided to drop the effort.

Rep. Barbara Freiberg, R-Baton Rouge, is sponsoring the same measure in hopes of generating a discussion of state transportation needs.