State finds new possible funding source for projects like Mississippi River Bridge

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development leaders may have found a way to get the money it will take to widen and basically replace the Mississippi River Bridge. It's through a unique partnership that has already secured the funds to replace one in the New Orleans area.

Gone are the days when you could just expect traffic on the Mississippi River Bridge during the morning and evening rush hours. These days, it can back up at any given moment, and it's not just frustrating to commuters. Louisiana DOTD Secretary Dr. Shawn Wilson says it has gotten so bad, local businesses are now taking a hit.

"Folks in New Orleans question whether or not they are going to get their products on time at the port because they have to come through Baton Rouge, and it's so uncertain," Wilson said.

The much talked about solution is widening or replacing the Mississippi River Bridge. But with a price tag of $500 million, those plans are often put on the back burner. But Dr. Wilson says through what is called a Public Private Partnership, or P3, the state could very well afford it. Basically, investors would put up some money and they would be repaid over time. Wilson thinks the best way to do it is through tolls.

"We are ripe for this P3. We have the acknowledge that this will take some of our own money and effort," Wilson said.

Wilson says the Belle Chase Tunnel on the Westbank of New Orleans is a prime example. The state could only afford to pay for the maintenance over the years to plug leaks and repave the roadway. Until now. Wilson says a $45 million Infrastructure for Rebuilding America gr ant will help build a four-lane bridge to replace the tunnel. The rest, he says, will come from federal funds and for the first time ever, a P3.

"We have over half the money for the $125 million project and that is where the private partner comes in. They get reimbursed with tolls," Wilson said.

Dr. Wilson says right now, there are six teams of investors interested in Louisiana projects like the Mississippi River Bridge. But making it happen, he says, will also take commitments from the government and tax payers.

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