Ascension, Livingston okay private toll road study

Ascension and Livingston parish leaders have agreed to allow a Los Angeles company to study the economic feasibility of a 2-mile elevated toll road linking the parishes that would be privately owned.

American Transportation Partners will have two years to do due diligence on the proposed private road tying La. 933 at La. 42 in Ascension with La. 16 in Livingston over the Amite River, according to a parish agreement.

The toll road would be built just upstream of the La. 42 bridge near Port Vincent.

Under the deal, if American Transportation Partners finds the project is feasible, the company would come back to enter into a public-private partnership to design, build, entirely, pay for and own the new road in perpetuity.

The company also would set the tolls independently, parish officials said.

American Transportation Partners, and its parent, Tamkin Development Corp., claim to specialize in public-private partnerships and have completed more than 200 such projects in 96 cities.

American Transportation has handled a variety of infrastructure projects, from roads and bridges to tunnels and airports, the website says.

The Ascension Parish Council approved the agreement 7-0 on Thursday for the exclusive right to do the feasibility study, following approval from the Livingston Parish Council on Aug. 22.

In recent weeks, parish officials have discussed the toll road deal as a cutting edge concept that could build a long-discussed and expensive connection at no cost to the parish.

“If someone wants to spend money to build a road in Ascension Parish, I’m all for it,” Parish President Tommy Martinez said Wednesday.

“I can’t get a (road) sales tax passed, but if they want come in and build road for free, I will” be for it.

Ascension Parish voters rejected a 25-year, $200 million half-cent road tax in November.

As part of Thursday’s vote, the council must put up $10,000 in start-up fees.

Livingston Parish officials have done the same.

Under the toll road agreement approved Thursday, Livingston and Ascension parishes agree not to grant rights to any other company to study a toll road within two miles of the existing project during the term of the two-year deal, which was dated to begin Sept. 1.

Building a new highway link between the two parishes over the Amite River has been mulled for several years, including during the process of studying a more extensive Baton Rouge Loop.

But the connection has not gotten off the ground because of funding and feasibility questions.

The 11-member Ascension council also voted for a second time in an 8-1 vote Thursday to approve a 1-mill property tax for juvenile incarceration.

Under state law, the council can, by two-thirds vote, levy a 1-mill tax for juvenile incarceration without going to voters for approval.

The council got the two-thirds with deft agenda rearranging by Council Chairman Chris Loar to ensure enough council members were present at the time the tax came up Thursday night.

Councilman Bryan Melancon cast the sole vote against the measure, which was only able to garner the two-thirds majority required by Loar casting a vote.

As chairman, Loar ordinarily votes only to break ties.

Melancon said he could not vote to levy a tax without voter approval. Two councilmen, Benny Johnson and Dempsey Lambert, were absent when the tax vote was taken.

The council had backed the same tax Aug. 1, but the council’s official journal missed a public notice deadline, requiring a revote.