Today, Gov. John Bel Edwards received notice of an advance grant announcement that the U.S. Department of Transportation approved Louisiana's application for a $45 million Infrastructure for Rebuilding America, or INFRA, grant. The funds are committed to building a fixed, four-lane bridge to replace the tunnel and moveable bridge on La. 23 in Belle Chasse.
The INFRA grant is a much-needed portion of the financial package needed to complete this project. Additional funding will come in the form of $26.2 million in federal funds allocated to the Louisiana DOTD and $12 million in federal funds allocated to the Regional Planning Commission.
The remaining funding needed for the project will come through a Public Private Partnership, wherein a private company will provide the balance of money needed to construct the project and will recoup their investment through tolls paid by motorists using the new bridge. The private partner will maintain the new bridge through the period of their contract with DOTD.
“This INFRA grant is another demonstration of the innovative tools the state must utilize to improve its crumbling infrastructure,” said Gov. Edwards. “We certainly appreciate the Trump administration’s attention to the state’s needs and will continue to work closely with the federal government to address our needs. The Governor’s Task Force on Infrastructure investment made a proposal in the 2017 legislative session that would have funded this project, but the House of Representatives did not vote on this measure. While tolling is not my first choice to addressing our infrastructure woes, it is certainly a tool at our disposal that we should consider. My administration’s position embraces a philosophy of establishing the lowest possible toll for the shortest possible time frame such that the private sector can help meet our infrastructure needs while creating jobs.”
“The Belle Chase Bridge and Tunnel is an important access point to Plaquemines Parish for residents and those traveling to and from the Naval Air Station or other businesses located along Highway 23,” said U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy. “In addition, marine traffic navigating the Intracoastal Waterway must account for the bridge. Replacing both the bridge and tunnel is long overdue, so this grant is great news.”
"Today's announcement is a testament to Governor Edwards and Secretary Wilson's commitment to finding innovative ways to move Louisiana's infrastructure forward. It is my hope that this will spark legislative and public support for sustainable funding to move more projects forward," said Senator Troy Carter who district is comprised of Plaquemines Parish.
“This project is very important to our region, and I am happy to have worked with Gov. Edwards and the Louisiana Department of Transportation to make it possible. This has been a long time coming, but with this administration’s commitment, we can continue to work towards making this a reality,” said Rep. Chris Leopold.
The grant award supports the state’s first Public Private Partnership arrangement and is intended to close the funding gap for the Belle Chasse Bridge and Tunnel Replacement in Plaquemine Parish. “I’m pleased with the response we have received as we move forward with our Public Private Partnership,” said DOTD Secretary Shawn D. Wilson, Ph.D. “This project is critical is as critical as the capacity we are building using this procurement method. To have all the funding pieces falling in place is a testament to Gov. Edwards, the Legislature, Plaquemines Parish, DOTD employees and others who know the importance of upgrading our aging infrastructure.”
The project and the federal funding request received letters of support from Governor John Bel Edwards, members of the Louisiana’s Congressional Delegation, both the Senate and House Transportation Committee Chairmen and Vice Chairmen, as well as both Senate President John Alario and Speaker of the House Taylor F. Barras. Most importantly, there are several local business and industry leaders that have supported the concept as a solution to a decades old problem.
On April 5, DOTD reported that it received 20 letters of interest for the Public Private Partnership. The notice of intent was published in February. The state recently received 6 statements of qualification, from which a short list of proposers will be invited to submit a proposal.
The moveable bridge the INFRA grant will help replace was built in 1967 and the tunnel opened in 1955. The average daily traffic is 33,000. This route serves as the primary access point to the residents, businesses, and industries of Plaquemines Parish. The anticipated new structure will benefit the Belle Chasse Naval Air Station while providing more efficient commute times in daily activities and in hurricane evacuations for motorists.