GONZALES — Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration anticipates supporting additional state capital outlay funding for a state project to widen La. 42 in Ascension Parish, clearing the way for construction to proceed next summer, the governor’s communications director said.
The spokesman, Kyle Plotkin, said the administration expects to show that support when the State Bond Commission considers new capital outlay requests this fall.
The state Legislature approved the annual outlay bill, HB2, earlier this year. It includes $29.7 million to widen La. 42 in Prairieville.
State leaders, including the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, however, have warned that the $4.3 billion, multi-year bill has $120 million more in projects than money available through state borrowing.
The Bond Commission must approve the borrowing. It typically considers new projects in September or October.
“The administration anticipates supporting additional funding this fall at the Bond Commission that should put them on pace to start construction by next summer,” Plotkin said in a July 20 interview.
He could not say how much funding that would be.
“They will have additional funding to start construction come next summer,” he added.
The $44.3 million Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development project would widen La. 42 to four and five lanes from Airline Highway to just east of La. 44. The 3.7-mile stretch would have sidewalks, a bike path and raised medians, plans say.
Construction, expected to cost $30 million, is set for early next summer, said Dustin Annison, DOTD spokesman. Bid letting for the project, when DOTD seeks construction bidders, is planned for February.
Annison said the project’s rights of way are being bought and there is enough money on hand to reach the construction phase.
The Bond Commission has reauthorized funding for projects that had been in prior capital outlay bills, including $700,000 for La. 42, said Michael DiResto, state Division of Administration spokesman. That money is for design work, DOTD officials said.
But the bulk of the new La. 42 funding in HB2, $27 million, is in what is called Priority 5, a non-cash line of credit that must be moved to a higher priority before dollars are available. The bill also contains $2 million in Priority 2, a higher priority that represents a cash line of credit.
Ascension Parish government officials have hailed the new state budgetary inclusions as a milestone for a long-awaited project aimed at improving a key congested connector in Ascension and have spoken as if the money is coming.
State Rep. Eddie Lambert, R-Prairieville, and state Sen. Jody Amedee, R-Gonzales, also have said that Jindal’s administration has indicated the money would be there.
“Given the nature of the project, the importance of it, the safety issues and the Jindal administration’s commitment to improving roadways and infrastructure, I feel confident that it will be funded,” Lambert said.
The capital outlay came as parish officials began pitching a proposed half-cent tax to improve roads for the Nov. 6 ballot.
The tax revenue, if voters approve, would be used to improve intersections in the road upgrade’s first phase and put major and more costly road widening in a later phase. The proposed sales tax is to be dedicated to specific road improvements.
La. 42 is actually one of a few state highway projects in state capital outlay that are also in the parish plan.
Those projects, however, are only in the parish plan as a backup if DOTD funding were to fall through, parish officials said last month.
Ascension Parish Chief Engineer Ben Laurie said the projects would leave major gaps in the parish plan’s comprehensive approach if they were not done and would have been in the plan’s primary phase had they not had funding commitments from DOTD.
“Therefore, their inclusion provides assurance that we can complete the DOTD projects in the event DOTD is unable to do so,” Laurie said in an email.
Plotkin’s statement clarified conflicting earlier statements from other parts of the administration.
Annison had said DOTD expected the Bond Commission would approve the construction funding in time for the expected letting date in February.
DiResto said he could not say one way or the other on funding approval.
Jodi Conachen, DOTD communications director, later took back Annison’s statement, saying that the highway department could not speak for the Bond Commission but would move the project forward for a decision.