Uncertainty surrounds several ArkLaTex road projects

Proposed new access to Barksdale AFB possible
(Source: KSLA News 12)
(Source: KSLA News 12)
(Source: Google Earth)
(Source: Google Earth)

SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - The state of Louisiana is trying to be creative in solving significant issues while trying to fund multiple highway projects. According to the secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, the state has a "wheelbarrow full of needs and a thimble full of money".

Dr. Shawn Wilson explained various funding mechanisms for several projects in the ArkLaTex, including the Jimmy Davis Bridge project, the Interstate 49 connector project, and the project to extend Interstate 220 into Barksdale Air Force Base.

Interstate 49 Connector in Shreveport

Wilson stated federal and state monies used for many projects are short and may be difficult to obtain. He said the federal government funds 90% of interstate construction costs and the state government funds the rest.

"The challenges exist around the country in that the money the feds used to have isn't there anymore," said Wilson. "Certainly the money the state had to match it isn't there anymore. So then there's a question, how do you pay for a $600 to $700 million infrastructure project. Our backlog has gone from $13.4 billion to $13.9 billion just this year."

In August 2017, the North Louisiana Council of Governments recommended a plan to construct a new interstate through the Allendale neighborhood. NLCOG Executive Director Kent Rogers stated it was the cheapest, quickest and shortest route. The 3.5 mile stretch of interstate would cost approximately $500-million dollars.

However, the state must sign off on the approval and the Federal Highway Administration must approve the plan before any construction can begin.

"I think it's important for the community to know that no final decision has been made beyond determining that they want to connect with the inner-city connector," stated Wilson.

Jimmy Davis Bridge

Wilson believes the state will have a difficult time in funding other road projects after voters disapproved of a proposal to increase the gas tax.

Wilson stated, "Our challenge is just keeping the doors open and the system preserved, meaning, how do you manage the 16,000 miles the state currently operates and how do you sustain that in a way that's going to work?"

Had voters approved the gas tax hike, Dr. Wilson believes projects like the Jimmy Davis Bridge and entrance into Barksdale Air Force Base from I-220 would have been funded.

The state is now trying to obtain federal money to help pay for the new Barksdale entrance through the use of GARVEE bonds.

However, GARVEE bonds are not on the table currently for the Jimmy Davis Bridge project. Wilson believes a public-private partnership is a more viable option, which would allow a private investor to put up the money to build a new bridge. The state would then pay back the investor.

Wilson would rather build a new bridge without GARVEE bonds and turn the Jimmy Davis Bridge into a pedestrian bridge.

"We'd much rather take that $20 million, invest in another infrastructure that's going to be a 4-lane bridge that has pedestrian access potentially, as well as fit in the community's context in terms of not having two bridges that are totally different."

Wilson said a similar project could be funded in Belle Chasse, Louisiana. A state legislative committee approved a plan in December 2017 that would allow private money to replace a tunnel and bridge.

"We've got a wheelbarrow full of needs and a thimble full of money," Wilson said. "So we've had to make some priority decisions to repair and maintain that structure because it's in a much more concerning condition. I should say, it's not unsafe but it's very concerning."

The state currently has more than $13-billion in backlogged projects.

"That $13-billion backlog includes things like the Jimmy Davis Bridge, but it doesn't include the interstate connector from 220 to 20 on I-49," Wilson stated. "Because we're only looking at what's already built and how do you maintain that, not how do you grow the system and add more capacity."

New Access to Barksdale Air Force Base

Wilson believes the plan to create a new access into Barksdale Air Force Base is one of the most critical projects in the ArkLaTex. He also believes a new plan by Governor John Bel Edwards could provide some help quickly.

The plan would use GARVEE (Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle) bonds in order to pay for three projects in Louisiana, including the Barksdale access.

"This is our effort to still get something done, not statewide but on the most critical projects for economic development," Wilson said. "GARVEE bonds are a tool that the federal government gives us that allows us to take future federal funds, bond them out specifically, and use them to advance projects that will be eligible for federal funds over the course of those dollars."

According to the LADOTD, the state would pay back the debt of the bonds using federal money it receives every year.

"So we're going to be looking at about 12 years of about $67 million at the maximum, which the state law limits us to that amount to use to advance three significant projects."

Wilson stated the project is important for future development of the base. He also said the state must show its willingness to invest in projects involving military installations.

"When you look at the competitiveness of bases around the country, you need to demonstrate an investment from the state," Wilson said. "In order to grow what's happening in that base to improve efficiency on that base, we need to get that second major gate entrance."

Wilson said the new entrance would also alleviate traffic congestion in other areas near the base.

Wednesday night, Bossier police jurors approved a measure to provide $3-million from Bossier Parish and Bossier City towards the access.

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