Everyone knows our roads and highways are in need of repair or replacement across the state. In Southwest Louisiana, the need for a new I-10 Calcasieu River Bridge is ever increasing. Yet, a new bridge has languished on the State’s project list for more than a decade.
Louisiana’s economic success depends upon modern, safe, and reliable infrastructure. There is a tremendous level of private industry growth in Southwest Louisiana. Sustaining those efforts requires action on local infrastructure needs.
To that point, President Trump’s newly released infrastructure plan should come as encouraging news to our region. The President’s plan both incentivizes new investment and eliminates red tape to streamline the permitting process. I was uplifted to read that Governor John Bel Edwards has increasingly focused on replacing the I-10 Calcasieu River Bridge, and I have discussed the project with him. Like the President, I believe that infrastructure funding should follow growth, and no region in the United States is growing faster than Southwest Louisiana.
While these developments are reassuring, any real progress hinges on state and local stakeholders reaching a common path forward.
My office is ready and willing to facilitate any needed meetings between stakeholders and concerned citizens and will battle for federal funding and necessary permits when we get to that part of the development. However, I cannot begin that process until the Governor’s office, the Louisiana Department of Transportation (LaDoTD), and regional stakeholders reach a consensus on the best plan for a new bridge and work together toward its realization.
Throughout my first year in office, I have made it a priority to meet with every regional stakeholder pushing for a new bridge. In February 2017, I took my own team of engineers to conduct a safety inspection and get a boots-on-the-ground perspective. Last year, my office coordinated several meetings with LaDOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson and LaDoTD staff. Further, my office coordinated comprehensive I-10 bridge meetings with state legislators, local mayors, Chamber SWLA, and economic development leaders to discuss a cohesive strategy. This is what we know:
- The greatest hurdle facing State Government regarding a new bridge is ongoing litigation between private industry and the State due to a 1994 chemical spill near the west base of the bridge. While local industry has invested a great deal of funds into cleaning up this spill…all under the watchful eye of DEQ & EPA inspectors…the required Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has been repeatedly delayed by the Louisiana Court System, preventing the project from moving forward.
- Despite these roadblocks, the State has continuously conducted safety evaluations of the bridge’s structure, spending over $20 million maintaining the bridge. Although the bridge is structurally sound and not going to collapse, it does not meet modern safety standards and must be replaced.
- Although the I-10 bridge was not included in Governor Edward’s 2018 $600 million federal infrastructure development plan, Southwest Louisiana’s economic prosperity and growth potential make it a prime candidate for additional federal resources.
- Despite the ongoing litigation battle, progress is being made toward a new bridge. LaDoTD is reviewing several plans, which vary in design, routing, benefits, and shortcomings. The ultimate bridge design shouldn’t be dictated by D.C. nor Baton Rouge. The citizens of Southwest Louisiana should have a significant voice on this decision.
- The involved factions, including the State Government, have failed to reach a consensus on which plan is best for the region and the correct path forward. I am prepared to aggressively pursue federal funding and permits for whichever project is selected, and I am standing by.
To expedite this process, it is imperative that our elected leaders, both locally and in Baton Rouge, hear from you directly. I urge you to be vocal and access the various resources in the region to learn which plans are being considered and how each affects you.
You can find out who your local representation in the state legislature is and how to contact them by plugging in your address at http://www.legis.la.gov/legis/FindMyLegislators.aspx
I urge you to contact the following group of stakeholders:
Governor John Bel Edwards
Office of the Governor
PO Box 94004
Baton Rouge, LA 70804
(225) 342-0991 or (844) 860-1413
Secretary Shawn Wilson
Louisiana Department of Transportation & Development
Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter
326 Pujo St
Lake Charles, LA 70601
Westlake Mayor Robert “Bob” Hardey
P.O. Box 700
Westlake, LA 70669
SWLA Economic Development Alliance
P.O. Box 3110
Lake Charles, LA 70602-3110
Congressman Clay Higgins (R-LA) represents Louisiana’s third congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives.