Building new Mississippi River bridge is ‘top economic priority,’ BRAC president urges

Building new Mississippi River bridge is ‘top economic priority,’ BRAC president urges
(Source: WAFB)

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Moving forward in developing a third Mississippi River bridge is a top transportation and economic priority for the Baton Rouge area, Baton Rouge Area Chamber President Adam Knapp announced at a Monday meeting.

“It’s years past time, probably decades past time, for constructing a new Mississippi River bridge. I-12 has been widened, I-10 widely has its funding, or at least most of the funding necessary for its work. Washington Street is being addressed, and I-10 in Ascension is almost finished,” Knapp said during this week’s press club.

Capital Area Road and Bridge District, or CARBD, a five-parish regional taxing authority charged with finding a way to finance a new bridge, is finishing up its environmental assessment, according to Knapp. The assessment will determine the feasibility, design, coast and location of the bridge, which Knapp calls the “Capitol Expressway.”

Its first meeting is scheduled for February 5 at the State Capitol.

“We worked last year with State Senator Rick Ward III to help pass the legislation for the bridge district,” Knapp said. “And this is the year to really get that work kick-started. Lots of studies have occurred since 2008 to advance the south bridge project.”

Funding the project through tolls is a possibility, according to Knapp. If tolls cover 100 percent of bridge costs, proposal requests will need to be submitted in order to elect developers who could finance and construct the project. If tolls can’t solely fund the project, Knapp explains, then officials will determine costs after tolls are maxed out.

In the past, Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, who sponsored the bill to create CARBD, told the Greater Baton Rouge Business Report a half-cent sales tax could help pay for the bridge, generating $90 million a year among the five-parish region. The bridge is expected to cost more than $1 billion.

“I actually think that in the optimism of what we’ve seen in the last twelve months for solutions for transportation, we can overcome these questions, given the political will and the unity of this project, we see a lot of excitement for this project to be real,” Knapp said.

Baton Rouge Mayor Sharon Weston Broome’s recently passed her MovEBR tax proposal, which aims to relieve traffic congestion in the Baton Rouge area, could also contribute to bridge funding. Broome had expressed plans to be involved in the project that falls in line with the half-cent tax proposal.

A 2018 Baton Rouge Area Chamber (BRAC) survey indicated business owners think the biggest obstacle in the way of economic growth in Baton Rouge is traffic. BRAC officials said the local economy is growing and has a rebounding population from the 2016 floods.

The ongoing repairs of the Sunshine Bridge add another layer of urgency for the need of a new bridge.

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