BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A state audit released on Monday shows a decline in federal funding and a rise in construction projects is putting Louisiana Transportation and Development projects in a bind.
A retired engineer is offering a solution, but it comes at a cost to taxpayers.
Louisiana is built around 61,000 miles of paved roadways, 13,000 in bridges, and 2,700 in railroad tracks. They are all avenues of transportation and commerce for the state. Louisiana depends heavily on federal funding to keep traffic moving smoothly.
Now a state audit zeroes in on a problem that could force Louisiana to defer maintenance and delay projects.
Assistant Director of Financial Audit Services Beth Davis said the DOTD has an estimated backlog of $12 billion in construction projects.
"Unless there's some change in the structure of the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) where additional money is dedicated for transportation or changing the allocation of those funds and how they are used, then it's possible that the transportation infrastructure projects needed in the state may not happen," Davis said.
The TTF comes from two sources: federal funds and motor fuels taxes. Louisiana drivers pay 20 cents per gallon for state motor fuels tax. That is low compared to other states, like Florida where drivers pay 36 cents and West Virginia where residents pay 35 cents. The U.S. average is 31 cents.
Ken Perret, the President of the Louisiana Good Roads and Transportation Association and retired engineer, said that tax directly impacts the money available for road maintenance. He said the solution is a ten-cent per gallon gasoline hike. He said Louisiana's next governor needs to make it happen.
"These candidates have expressed an interest in doing something, but they haven't come up with that plank yet on how they would address the problem," Perret said.
Davis said it is hard to predict when Louisiana's transportation budget could sink beyond repair, but it is time for the DOTD to take a hard look at its pending projects.
"It's a concern. The state has to adjust plans as to what projects can be funded based on the revenues that are available to them," Davis said.
A spokesman for the DOTD said the agency is doing everything it can to keep Louisiana's roads on a good path, but its future success will depend highly on federal dollars.