Road fund delays some rural repairs

Several state lawmakers complained Thursday that rural roads in their legislative districts will go without improvements for the first two years of a three-year, $325 million bond issue.

“It is not working out for me and some other folks,” state Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin said.

The issue surfaced during a meeting of the House and Senate transportation committees, which approved spending on the first year of projects.

The work stems from a bond issue pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal and approved by the Legislature earlier this year.

It is aimed at about 1,100 of Louisiana’s roughly 6,000 miles of rural roads which are not eligible for federal aid.

Some of the roads, Jindal said, have not been upgraded in 30 years.

However, Jones said when he voted for the plan he was told that virtually every parish in the state would benefit from the bond issue.

State Rep. Terry Brown, No Party-Colfax, said it will be hard for him to return to Grant Parish and tell voters that nothing is coming their way in the first two years of the road improvements. “I’ve asked and I keep getting nothing,” he said.

“I’m asking for a crumb or two to be thrown my way,” Brown said.

Sherri LeBas, secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development, said lawmakers should not read anything into the fact that roads in their areas are not on the list for years one and two. “It is a three-year program,” LeBas said.

She said the third year of projects will be compiled next summer.

Eric Kalivoda, deputy secretary for DOTD, said the list of projects stems from the state’s highway priority program, which includes formulas on which roads need attention.

The first-year work includes three projects in West Baton Rouge Parish and one in Livingston Parish.

Work in St. Landry and St. Martin parishes is also on the list for first-year improvements.

State Rep. Jerry Gisclair, D-Larose, said roads in his legislative district are not on the list of improvements for the first two years.

Gisclair asked whether a state lawmaker can have input in deciding priority projects, and whether local financial assistance can help road work get done faster.

DOTD officials said roads in 52 of the state’s 64 parishes will get attention in the first two years of the bond issue.

Since Orleans Parish has no roads eligible for the aid that means 11 parishes are excluded from road work in the first two years.

The spending relies on the State Highway Improvement Fund, which generates about $50 million per year from commercial vehicle registration and license fees.

The law allows half of that money to be used to issue bonds and pay them off over 20 years.