Baton Rouge businessman agrees to back funding for Capital Expressway

Baton Rouge businessman wants to fund new bridge over Mississippi River

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Prominent Baton Rouge businessman, Jim Bernhard, has announced his company is willing to back the cost of building another bridge over the Mississippi River, but that traffic solution comes with a price that people in five parishes must be willing to pay.

The Mississippi River Bridge is often the backdrop of many beautiful sunsets over Baton Rouge, but it’s not so pretty when you are stuck in it. Traffic is bumper to bumper during rush hour at least five days a week. The idea of another, newer bridge to get traffic moving has been tossed around plenty of times, but with a $1 billion price tag, it seemed out of reach until now.

“I think the bridge could be financed with debt and equity and we are prepared to put up both,” Bernhard said.

Jim Bernhard
Jim Bernhard (Source: WAFB)

Bernhard, who leads a private equity firm and perhaps is best known as founder of The Shaw Group, stood confidently before the Baton Rouge Press Club as he laid out his plans to once and for all wake Baton Rouge from its traffic nightmare. The Capital Expressway, as he called it, would run through the city along I-10 to I-12. “We’ve done preliminary numbers on the toll bridge. It looks like it’s acceptable for return on investment to pay off the debt over a period of 30 to 40 years,” Bernhard said.

But the would be bridge is just part of it. Bernhard says East Baton Rouge Parish and four other surrounding parishes would have to be willing to approve a tax to help pay for the necessary infrastructure upgrades in their own neighborhoods. He believes this weekend, EBR voters paved the way by approving a tax to help pay for road improvements. Bernhard says it’s time for everyone else to get on board. “Everyone knows we are going to build a new capital area bridge. Everyone here knows this, so let’s move on with it and get it done,” he said.

Bernhard says while adding a tax to the local ballots might be tough to do in an election year, if parish leaders don’t do something now, it could put drivers in an even bigger jam down the road.

The secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) responded to Bernhard’s announcement with the statement below.

There is no doubt the Capital area and the state will benefit from a new bridge and we are working to deliver just that, knowing the current gas tax is worth less than half of what it was in 1989. The use of tolling to help pay for this bridge and other infrastructure needs is forward thinking, and this administration is in process of procuring our first Public Private Partnership using tolls to replace the Belle Chasse Tunnel and Bridge. If tolls pay for 50 percent of the proposed project, we have to know where the other 50 percent is coming from before entering into a contractual agreement. There are infrastructure needs across the state, and we have the tools and ability to address all of the needs. We just don’t have the funding. For the state to move forward and address the $14 billion backlog, we need to right-size the gas tax.
Dr. Shawn Wilson

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