Adam Knapp, President and CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, said that a West Baton Rouge transportation project is a top priority in this year’s legislative session.
Knapp, who was the guest speaker during the West Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce’s monthly luncheon, March 26, said that the “West Bank Connector” is the regions top priority to get funding during the 2014 regular session.
“We need to make sure that the delegation, that the media in our region, especially the governor’s office, are hearing that this is the number one project for the region. It is the only real road project – and uncontroversial road project – that everybody knows need to be built to address a critical, urgent problem,” Knapp said during his address to WBR Chamber members. “There’s a lot of commitment to that from the delegation.”
Knapp said that recently, another project, referred to as the BUMP (Baton Rouge Urban Renewal and Mobility Plan) has been communicated as the top regional priority, but said that BUMP is merely a study, not an actual road project like the West Bank Connector.
“For whatever reason (the road project) got communicated behind the study project,” Knapp said. “They are asking to fund a study; and a study is not a road project. A study is a study of a road project. What the capital area delegation did was they put the West Bank project at the top of the list for their road projects.”
The top regional priority is, in fact, the West Bank Connector, or Westbank Expressway, a project slated to receive nearly $2 million if funded in its current status in the Legislature’s House Bill No. 2.
According to a press release from the SJB Group, the connector would significantly improve transportation access to the West Bank, including commercial and industrial sites in Ascension, Iberville, St. James and West Baton Rouge parishes.
Errin Flynn, the Executive Director of the Capital Region Legislative Delegation, said in a press release that the Westbank Expressway is a $2 million project which would provide transportation and access to adjoining population, commercial and industrial centers, while providing sites for capital investment, quality jobs, and long term economic growth in the “New Frontier.”
Flynn listed the BUMP as the top priority of Mega Projects, while the West Bank Connector was listed as the regional top priority. The BUMP legislative request is for “$3.5 million needed for the new interstate-style roadway linking I-10 EBR, I-12, I-110, US 190 and I-10 WBR – expanding the regional freeway system while still providing free frontage roads for local access. The state funding would be leveraged with a match by EBR and WBR Parishes who wholly support the project. The seed funding will be used to complete the NEPA process, perform traffic and revenue study, and engage the community. At the end of this process in 18 months, it is expected that he construction of the project itself would be fully funded by toll revenue, in addition to the free frontage roads.”
During the membership luncheon, Knapp said that BRAC, along with the Capital Area Delegation, the WBR Parish President’s office and WBR Chamber of Commerce, is committed to communicating the funding of the WBR road project as one of the focal points of this years legislative session.
“That’s something that’s urgent to make sure we’re all working together to elevate the attention on that road project during the next few weeks and months in legislative session,” he said.
Knapp also spoke about the economic growth West Baton Rouge, and surrounding areas on the west side of the Mississippi River, has witnessed in the last year.
“(BRAC) had our highest year in payroll since 2008,” he boasted, saying that much of that was due to investment projects west of Baton Rouge. “Dow projected a $1 billion additional investment – the largest investment commitment from Dow in many, many years. That’s a signal from their corporate headquarters in Michigan that they really do believe that Louisiana, as an economy, is a very pro-business economy in comparison to Texas where they have made many investments over the years where they’ve had to chose between Texas or Louisiana for gulf coast investments. That was a great project win last year.”
He said that other projects west of Baton Rouge included Shin Tech, who announced an additional project investment; Bio Nitrogen, a project win in Pointe Coupee Parish; and Core Tech, a project that surfaced and was won last year that announced a 45 job expansion by year’s end.
“There was a lot of west side activity that came out last year in terms of total projects,” Knapp said. “Over $2 billion of the $4 billion announced were west side investments announced last year – just to give you a sense of the amount of activity that we see happening on the west side of the river and our confidence in what’s happening on the west side of the river.”
He said that BRAC currently has 79 active leads to companies that may have an interest in sites around the Greater Baton Rouge area.
“In total, 30 of those 79 we think are prospects that would likely look at the west side of the river for a site,” Knapp said. “It’s a significant amount of opportunity.”