Members of the Capital Area Road and Bridge District took two steps forward Monday on the long road toward a new bridge over the Mississippi River.
The district members gave the green light to seek a firm for an environmental impact study on the project and chose to seek a conventional highway format for the bridge.
An interstate-caliber project would bring the cost of the project to $2 billion, as opposed to $1 billion for a standard bridge across the river, officials said at the meeting Monday at the State Capitol.
The Horace Wilkinson Bridge, or New Mississippi Bridge, from Port Allen to Baton Rouge, along with a stretch of Interstate 310 near New Orleans mark the only two interstate-caliber roadways for the Mississippi River.
The members – including West Baton Rouge Parish President Riley “Pee Wee” Berthelot and Iberville Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso – also cast a unanimous vote to move forward on selection process for a firm to conduct the required environmental impact study for the project.
“The money we got from Capital Outlay gives us a jump start on getting plans together,” he said. “This could take years to get there. Once we get plans, we’ll have to figure out how to fund this thing, but it’s one step at a time.”
The $5 million environmental impact study was funded in the state Capital Outlay budget Gov. John Bel Edwards recently signed.
The EIS will mark one of the longest preliminary phases for the project, for which the site has not yet been determined.
The Trump Administration wants more work done during the preliminary phase and less emphasis on the environmental study, but Dr. Eric Kalivoda, an assistant to DOTD Secretary Dr. Shawn Wilson, urged against putting off the study.
“Nobody likes the time frames, but it’s a process that needs to be followed,” he said. “Challenges have gone to the Supreme Court umpteen times and we always run into people who want to circumvent the process, but is the rhetoric unique enough when hundreds of other challenges have failed before the Supreme Court?”
The board will have a six-month window to select the EIS consultant.
Plenty of work remains before dirt can move, but the committee has made significant strides thus far, said state Sen. Rick Ward, R-Port Allen, whose legislation last year formed the committee to study the construction of a new Mississippi River Bridge.
“I think it moved great, they’re moving very efficient and we’re going to have the opportunity to get something done that has yet to be done, which is to finish up the environmental work, and you can’t do anything else in terms of turning dirt,” he said. “This is really the first step toward building the bridge. anything else in terms of turning dirt. Hopefully, we can get a lot of this taken care of.”