Jindal administration finds money for I-49 extension

Sherri LeBas Show caption
Sherri LeBas

The state came up with nearly $113 million to finance extensions of Interstate 49, Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols announced late Wednesday in a news release.

“To be able to secure funding for this project is paramount,” Nichols said.

“We recognize the importance of the I-49 corridor and look forward to the continued progress of this project,” said Sherri H. LeBas, secretary of the state Department of Transportation and Development, in a prepared statement.

The money raised by sale of bonds will be divided between projects to extend I-49, with about $20 million going to the section south of Lafayette to New Orleans and $89.5 million for north I-49 project, according to the press release.

State Treasurer John Kennedy said the money should cover the remaining cost of completing the extension for I-49 from I-220 in Shreveport to the state line with Arkansas. Then I-49 picks up again in Arkansas a few miles north of the state line.

The section between New Orleans and Lafayette could cost about $4 billion, he said. The I-49 South project would pass through Iberia, St. Mary, Terrebonne, Lafourche and St. Charles parishes before connecting with the Westbank Expressway in Jefferson Parish.

Kennedy said efforts are underway to work out something with the federal government, which requires expensive elevated highways over wetlands.

“We came up with a plan, the Legislature approved it, and we’re moving forward with it. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but this is a significant step forward in our efforts,” Kennedy said.

The state sold $113 million in Unclaimed Property bonds at an interest rate ranging from 2 percent to 5 percent, according to Kennedy’s office.

Each year, the Treasury Department collects around $57 million in unclaimed money, nearly half of which is returned.

About $15 million is allocated to the “I-49 Leverage Fund.” The remainder goes into the state budget.

The funding mechanism allows the state to use the $15 million in the I-49 Leverage Fund to make debt service payments on bonds issued for the interstate.