The Legislature continued its annual “road show” Wednesday to hear about Baton Rouge area highway proposals amid recurring reminders that Louisiana has a $12.1 billion backlog of projects that lack funding.
“We are transportation advocates, but we are realists,” said Ken Perret, president of the Good Roads and Transportation Association.
Perret said the state Department of Transportation and Development “is doing its best.”
“But without more money the backlog will get larger, no matter how fast or efficient the department becomes,” he said in written testimony submitted to the committee and similar comments to the panel.
Robin Romeo, transportation planning administrator for DOTD, told a joint meeting of the House and Senate transportation committees that the state has a $12.1 billion backlog of highway and bridge needs and plans to spend $677 million for construction in the current financial year.
“That slide tells us a great deal,” Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Robert Adley, R-Benton, said.
“You can see the dollars are obviously limited,” Adley said.
State Sen. Troy Brown, D-Geismar, said there has been talk of building a bridge across the Mississippi River between the Plaquemine and St. Gabriel areas, part of an effort to ease congestion on Interstate 10.
State Rep. Dalton Honoré, D-Baton Rouge, asked DOTD officials about the possibility of an additional exit lane on I-110 North for those traveling east on Harding Boulevard — the site of daily traffic backups.
State Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, said work on I-49 south, which is eventually expected to extend from Lafayette to New Orleans, is costly but one that is manageable if done in small sections.
As it is, Jones said, motorists in the area “have been waiting longer than Moses in the desert” for progress on the project.
Denham Springs Mayor Jimmy Durbin said his area needs a new interchange at Interstate 12 and La. 16 — known locally as Pete’s Highway — to ease traffic at I-12 and Range Avenue, which he said is used by 50,000 motorists daily.
Gonzales Mayor Barney Arceneaux said four roundabouts are needed, including some at La. 30 and I-10 to aid traffic using the Tanger Outlet Center and Cabela’s sporting goods store.
“We are talking about two regional shopping centers,” he said.
The roundabouts are the subject of a city-state study.
State Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, noted that while the state’s roads backlog is down from $12.5 billion a few years ago, it remains daunting. “It’s all about dollars or a lack of them,” White said.
Earlier this year the state branch of the American Society of Civil Engineers gave Louisiana letter grades in nine areas, including a “D” for its roads and a “D-plus” for the bridges.
However, state leaders have been grappling with disappointing revenue collections for years, and Gov. Bobby Jindal has repeatedly said he opposes any tax hikes.
Long-shot efforts in the Legislature to raise money for roads and bridges have been mostly ignored.
Lawmakers this year did approve a $325 million bond issue for rural roads.
Several area legislators Wednesday praised some of the recent improvements in the Baton Rouge area, including the widening of I-12 from O’Neal Lane to Juban Road and the ongoing expansion of I-10 from the I-10/12 split to Highland Road.
That work was aided by state surplus and federal stimulus dollars.
Adley noted that the state has been moving $40 million to $50 million per year from a fund that is supposed to pay for roads and bridges to the state’s general fund amid budget problems.
That money, he said, could be used to finance a $400 million transportation bond issue.
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