BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) – While repairs continue on one bridge that spans the Mississippi River in south Louisiana, a state lawmaker is pushing for a new bridge in the region.
State Sen. Rick Ward, a Republican from Port Allen, near Baton Rouge, is featured in a new one-minute television ad calling for a new span.
The Advocate reports that the ad is paid for through Ward’s campaign fund. It’s getting praise from leaders of parishes that have been directly affected by the recent closure of the Sunshine Bridge. Leaders say that bridge’s closure following an October barge accident has made existing traffic problems worse.
The Sunshine bridge, in St. James Parish, is part of the transportation system serving industrialized areas downriver from Baton Rouge. The estimated cost of a new bridge is $1 billion.
“Since everything that has happened with the Sunshine bridge, everyone’s radar is up more than ever before,” Ward said.
The ad is a precursor to the work that will be done by the Capital Region Infrastructure Authority, which was created this spring through legislation Ward sponsored. The authority is composed of appointees from East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, Iberville, Livingston and Ascension parishes, and the secretary of the state’s Department of Transportation and Development.
East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome attended the authority’s first meeting a few months ago and says she plans to be an active participant in the conversation about a new bridge, a project she says would fall in line with her “MoveBR” 30-year, half-cent sales tax proposal.
Broome intends to use revenue generated by the sales tax, up for voter consideration on Dec. 8, to pay for upgrades and improvements to roadways throughout the city-parish.
“There’s no denying a new bridge will be beneficial,” she said.
In addition to devising how and where a new bridge could be built, Ward’s bill also gives the authority the power to propose fees and/or taxes that would fund whatever traffic solutions the body proposes.
Just a new bridge alone has an estimated price tag of at least $1 billion.
That’s where the ad comes in.
Any funding measures would have to win voter approval. A few preliminary ideas include a public-private partnership that would allow the authority to build the bridge and pay for it through tolls at the structure or sales taxes across the five-parish region.
“The PAC was set up for two reasons,” Ward said. “To let people know if they vote on something, it’s not another study to determine how to build a bridge. They’re voting on how to finance its construction.”