Mississippi River Bridge

The notoriously gridlocked "New" Mississippi River bridge that celebrated its 50th birthday this year. 

Voters, officials and investors are making sure the Capital Bridge Project moves right along with hopes that soon traffic will too. 

State and Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) officials say there is no funding and thus no timeline for the billion-dollar bridge. Legislators, most notably Port Allen native Sen. Rick Ward, began working to figure out a way to “do it for ourselves” in the 2018 legislative session.  

Sen. Ward and Jim Bernhard, CEO of Bernhard Capital Partners, praised East Baton Rouge Parish voters for passing a half-cent roads improvement sales tax on Dec. 8. 

“We’re going to look to the five parishes to contribute and I believe that Baton Rouge has lead the way…” Bernhard told the Baton Rouge Press Club Monday, Dec. 10. 

Bernhard committed to providing the capital for the project, which he dubbed the Capital Bridge or Capital Expressway, earlier this year. 

“It’s not just that it has to be them,” Ward said. “[Bernhard Capital Partners] want to make sure that [voters] know that the five-parish region can move forward and try to plan this project knowing that there’s somebody there that will absolutely fund the build of the bridge.” 

Other groups have expressed interest in the project as well, and Ward expects the financing options to be competitive. 

Whether voters choose to fund the bridge or expressway through taxes or tolls, each parish will be responsible for financing the mechanisms leading up to it. East Baton Rouge already did their part by beginning to solve the puzzle with a 60 percent majority vote at the polls, Ward said. 

The Capitol Region Authority is given latitude via legislation in which funding mechanisms to use for the Capitol Bridge or Expressway. Private-public partnerships in the form of tolls and four taxing options are available for funding the project. The authority may present voters with an annual parcel fee not to exceed $500, levying a sales tax not to exceed one percent or issuing bonds secured by ad valorem and sales taxes. 

“There’s all sorts of options, but we finally have options,” Ward said. 

A majority of the voting parishes must vote in favor of a financing mechanism for it to pass. While East Baton Rouge is showing promise, officials and voters in Livingston Parish may feel they have “the least to gain” Ward said. Before a vote, any parish which feels its residents will not benefit may opt to be excluded from the ballot and project. 

The Capitol Bridge or Expressway will free up the two existing bridges, meaning locals would rarely pay tolls, Ward said. He estimated 65 to 70 percent of the tolls would be paid by people passing through. 

Data from the loop project proposed nearly two decades ago along with new information from traffic studies, a word Ward was leery of using, will determine the location and mechanisms of the Capitol bridge or Expressway. All of the information regarding the project will be available to voters prior to the decision going to the polls, Ward said. He hopes the regional authority, comprised of parish presidents, secretary of DOTD and Governor John Bel Edward’s appointee Mike Wampold, will present a project to voters in 2019, Ward said. 

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