The Capitol Area Road and Bridge District held its first meeting Tuesday morning at the state capitol to discuss the planning and funding for a third Mississippi River bridge. The District represents five parishes—East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, Ascension, Iberville and Livingston.

The district is comprised of seven members—the presidents of the five Capital Region parishes as well as the secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, and governor appointee Mike Wampold.

The new bridge could cost anywhere from $750 million to $1 billion, DOTD Deputy Secretary Eric Kalivoda said. Plans demonstrated during the meeting showed five different alignment alternatives, all of which have six lanes and six shoulders on both sides for future expansion.

The project is eligible for funding through public-private partnerships, tolls, state, and federal dollars. It can also be completed as multiple projects.

"We see it as a complimentary project because of the effort it's going to take to deliver it and because what is needed in the interim," said Sen. Rick Ward, a Port Allen native responsible for the district's creation. 

The proposal of a $3 million rail in the middle of the bridge garnered little interest and none from East and West side representatives. 

"It's safe to conclude that no more than a quarter of the costs of the bridge will come from the tolls," Kalivoda said.

The remaining funding would have to come from other sources, like the value of running the Plaquemine ferry for the next four years or the road transfer program. DOTD is currently doing a more detailed toll study. 

Ward explored the use of 'asset recycling' since the state cannot toll an existing interstate according to federal law. Options of assets to privatize are rest areas and ferries, but "nothings off the table" to pursue if valuable, Ward said. 

The project's priority advanced to B in 2015 and because of state support, the project will move along faster and keep pressure, Shawn Wilson, the Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, said. 

A new bridge is needed for DOW and its employees' commute and quality of life, said Dow Chemical's Southeast U.S. State Government Affairs Leader, Tommy Faucheux. 

The District postponed electing a new chairman. Wilson will likely serve as interim and call the future meetings until an election is held. 

Staff writer

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