A relief plan for one of the Capital Area’s worst areas of congestion gained the most significant measure of support yet.
Gov. John Bel Edwards told reporters Thursday he would be inclined to sign a bill that would lead to the construction of a connection from the south end of La. 415 to La. 1, south of the Intracoastal Waterway.
The announcement came one day after the House gave the green light to House Bill 578 with a 97-4 vote. The bill would allow the use of funds from a near-$10 billion settlement from British Petroleum for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
“The governor’s support is a massive breakthrough for this project,” New Roads GOP House member Jeremy Lacombe, who represents West Baton Rouge and Pointe Coupee parishes and the northernmost portion of Iberville said. “What’s also important is that this bill drew 97 votes, and that’s as big a sign of a bipartisan effort that you’ll find in the Capital.”
The issue breezed through the House Appropriations Committee without objection in late April.
“We’re halfway there on this bill,” Lacombe said.
Lacombe, who made his comments by phone late Thursday night, said the La. 415 project was a common issue during his discussions with constituents during his campaign earlier this year. During the debate Wednesday, he called the gridlock on LA 1 a safety issue as well as an economic issue.
The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Tanner Magee, R-Houma, now heads to the Senate for debate.
The construction of the highway would bring considerable relief to the frequent traffic snarls and wrecks along the stretch of Interstate 10 that leads to the Mississippi River Bridge.
“This particular bill is trying to address two of the major arteries that feed our oil and gas and petrochemical industries, and whether we like it or not, those are two industries that are the backbone of this state,” Rep. Chad Brown, a co-author on the bill who represents Assumption and Iberville, said during the debate Wednesday.
The worst tie-ups occur between La. 415 and the Mississippi River Bridge, but congestion often extends miles beyond the two-mile gap and triggers jams north and south of the artery.
The connector is an LA-1 bypass that provides another access point to I-10 and the Mississippi River Bridge. The four-lane divided roadway will
extend south from I-10 at the La. Hwy. 415 exit over the Intracoastal
Waterway to North Line Road and connect with La. Hwy. 1.
The 3-mile connector along La. 415 would cost approximately $145 million.
The state will get $53 million for 14 years from the BP settlement. Forty-five percent of the money currently goes toward budget stabilization and another 45 percent to the Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly.
The bill proposes redirecting money from the Medicaid fund to infrastructure and reimburse it with the general fund starting next year, Magee said.
About half of the diversion, $25 million, would fund the completion of an La. 1 elevation in Plaquemines, Lafourche, and Terrebonne parishes, all of which are highly susceptible to flooding. It is estimated the project will cost approximately $343 million.
Another $25 million will go to the shovel-ready project in West Baton Rouge already has $50 million set aside -- $25 million from the Port of Greater Baton Rouge and $25 million from business and industry.
The remaining $3 million will be split evenly between the Construction Subfund for road and bridge preservation and then divided equally among the Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) districts.
The Connector project dates back to 1972 – a year before the completion of the I-10 stretch to Lafayette –when it was identified as a priority in the West Baton Rouge Parish Master Plan.
Rep. Malinda White, who represents St. Tammany and Washington parishes, attempted to amend the bill to prioritize a 35-year-old project in her district. Voters in the area passed, and have paid, a gas tax since 1985 with nothing to show for it, she said. After her amendment failed, a motion to end considerations of future amendments passed.
“If we can do this [project] with this [passage] then we can begin having a discussion to fund our transportation needs going further,” Rep. Brown said.