Gov. Bobby Jindal’s $325 million plan to upgrade rural roads is nearing final approval even though it lacks specific projects that would land state aid.
The proposal, House Bill 783, passed the Senate last month 38-0 after winning House approval 99-0.
The Louisiana House on Wednesday is set to consider one minor change made in the Senate, then take what is likely a final vote on one of Jindal’s top legislative priorities.
State Rep. Jim Fannin, D-Jonesboro and sponsor of HB783, said earlier that the plan, which requires bonds to be issued, would allow long-neglected rural roads, ineligible for federal aid, to get repairs.
However, exactly which projects are upgraded in the Baton Rouge area and elsewhere is still to be decided.
Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Robert Adley, R-Benton, said the bill enjoys near total support in the Legislature partly because lawmakers have confidence in the “priority program” that will be used to allocate the dollars.
“I have some that have gone to gravel,” Adley said of road conditions in his senatorial district. “Gravel.”
The bond plan would rely on the State Highway Improvement Fund, which was set up in 2006 to help Louisiana’s 6,000 miles of roads that cannot get federal dollars.
The fund generates about $50 million per year from commercial vehicle registration and license fees.
The bill would allow half of that money to be used to issue bonds, which is a form of borrowing, and pay them off over 20 years.
The state will eventually pay $25 million per year to retire the bonds, according to the Legislative Fiscal Office.
The estimated interest rate is 4.5 percent, and state Treasurer John Kennedy has said interest rates make it a good time to do the borrowing.
The schedule calls for $100 million to be issued the first year, $100 million the second year and $125 million in the third year.
Every parish in the state except Orleans is set to get some of the money.
But which projects get the dollars will depend on priority lists in the state Department of Transportation and Development.
Roads are listed by traffic volume and conditions, said Jodi Conachen, director of communications for DOTD.
Once dollars are allocated to a parish, which roads get attention will be based on input from DOTD officials, lawmakers and local transportation officials.
Derrell Cohoon, a consultant for the Louisiana Associated General Contractors, said pent up demand for any sort of highway improvements has also made the bill popular.
“I think every one is like, wonderful, we are doing something for roads,” Cohoon said.
Louisiana has a $12.4 billion backlog of road and bridge needs.
In addition, the future of federal highway aid — often the key source for any major road and bridge project — is unclear amid disputes in Congress.
Efforts to find new sources of state highway dollars have died in the Legislature over recent years.
“This is the only program that is funding roads right now,” Cohoon said.
“And it is a program that has been seriously neglected for a long period of time,” he added.
Jindal, who unveiled his plan on Feb. 20, said some of the roads have not gotten significant repairs in 30 years.
About 1,100 miles of roads are targeted for improvements.
DOTD Secretary Sherri LeBas has said some of the roads will get major structural repairs.
Others will be resurfaced.
LeBas said that, combined with other money in the State Highway Improvement Fund, rural roads will get about $400 million of repairs over a three-year period.
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