Louisiana lawmakers back $162M bridge replacement plan


BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana state lawmakers gave final approval to a $162 million plan to replace a 50-year-old movable bridge and tunnel in a southeastern parish, despite objections of some residents and parish leaders who opposed the tolls that are a key part of the financing package.

Members of the state House and Senate transportation committees voted Wednesday for the Belle Chasse project, Louisiana’s first public-private partnership to finance a major transportation project under a law passed in 2001. The Advocate reports that House members voted 11-3, while senators backed the plan 4-2.

Under the arrangement, a private firm will build a new bridge in exchange for the longtime revenue stream. Tolls for parish residents will begin at 25 cents per trip across the new bridge and rise to 60 cents after three decades, said Shawn Wilson, state transportation secretary, who urged support for the project.

“Over the course of 30 years, you are talking about increases that are very minimal,” he told lawmakers.

Wilson said the tolls are needed for Louisiana to retain a federal grant for the project.

Critics said Plaquemines Parish residents will spend millions of dollars in tolls over 30 years, with Belle Chasse residents paying tolls multiple times a day just to get around town. Peter Traigle, president of A & L Sales, said tolls will cost his 80 employees $516 a year to get to work.

“That is not fair,” Traigle said.

Backers said such partnerships are common in Texas and other states. Chambers of commerce in the Baton Rouge, Acadiana and Lake Charles areas urged support, as they consider such partnerships for their own projects.

State transportation officials said the new bridge is expected to open in April 2024. Tolls for cars from outside the area will start at 90 cents per trip, with $6 charged for large trucks.

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