6 months ago



FEDERAL FUNDS BOOST STATE TRANSPORTATION PROJECTS By Timothy Boone In July, Louisiana received an additional $60 million in federal transportation funding that will help speed up work on several crucial highway projects around the state, including relocating an exit that clogs up Baton Rouge traffic, improving an interchange for the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport and advancing the design plans of the Interstate 20/220 interchange into Barksdale Air Force Base. While the money will specifically be used to replace the pavement and add a lane to a 15-mile stretch on Interstate 10 between the Interstate 49 interchange and the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge, it illustrates how the state stretches federal highway dollars to pay for more projects. Shawn Wilson, secretary for the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, said out of the 18.4 cents per gallon federal gasoline tax, 16 cents is returned to the state. The money is used for a variety of things, from maintaining highways and filling potholes, to replacing broken traffic signals and other day-to-day operations. The money is also added to the 4 cents per gallon gasoline tax and put in the Transportation Trust Fund. There, it is used to match federal funds for interstate and state highway construction. The government requires the state to put up 10 percent of the cost for federal highway work and a 20 percent match for a state project, Wilson said. “The state gets $645 million for these matches, right under $700 million,” he said. “For road and bridge maintenance, it’s $528 million.” Because the federal highway money goes into a pool for projects and maintenance, the state is able to do things like take the $60 million federal FASTLANE grant, which is aimed at freight and highway projects, and use it on the Acadiana highway work. That frees up money the state would have spent and lets it be used for relocating the Washington Street exit on I-10, a major issue in Baton Rouge. Work can also begin on the New Orleans airport and Barksdale projects. 8 ❘ Open Road Q3 2016

The state also got an estimated $500 million increase in funds through the FAST Act, the federal transportation bill passed in 2015, said U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, a Baton Rouge Republican who sits on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Graves said Louisiana will have a chance to compete for more federal transportation funds this year. Federal transportation officials are considering how to allocate $500 million in grants to the states. “These are the solutions we need, but it takes several years to get these projects in place under ideal conditions,” he said. Wilson said the additional $500 million Louisiana will see under the transportation bill will be spread out over the 5 year life of the bill. That means about $25 million to $30 million more a year for construction projects, with the rest going for maintenance and safety. “We can’t build a project today” with that money, he said. Graves said because the traffic problems that Louisiana faces evolved over decades, due to a lack of planning and a lack of investment, it’s going to take a while to find a solution. “We’ve got to really extract politics from deciding which projects are going to be be built and go to a metrics-based system that truly funds priority projects,” he said. This means using measurements such as how much a construction project will reduce the amount of time drivers sit in traffic. “We have two and four lane roads around this state that don’t have cars on them,” Graves said. In contrast, some of the state highways around Baton Rouge are frequently jammed up with cars and trucks. Because he wants to see the state use metrics to guide investments, Graves said he didn’t want to play “armchair quarterback” and list which projects he would like to see get federal funds. But he said some South Louisiana construction projects that need to be considered include upgrading La. 30 from downtown Baton Rouge to Gonzales, improving U.S. 190 which runs parallel to Interstate 12 and building another bridge across the Mississippi River in metro Baton Rouge. “These would likely fare well under a metrics based system,” he said. “We’ve got to get started on those projects now.” Wilson said highway funding faces “a pretty grim picture”. The federal and state gas taxes haven’t gone up in more than 20 years, while the cost of road construction has skyrocketed. And because the gas tax is consumption based, the trend toward more fuel-efficient vehicles and alternative forms of transit means there’s less money to go toward those projects. “It’s tough times finding a revenue source adjusted for inflation,” he said. "There has been some talk about a user fee, in which drivers pay a tax on how much they travel, but there hasn’t been a sustained push toward that model." Graves, who said he’s a fan of Wilson, said the state needs to spend transportation money better. Because of the ongoing budget problems, the state has tapped the Transportation Trust Fund to pay for things like the Louisiana State Police. State law allows for up to 20 percent of the trust fund to be spent on ports, parish roads, state flood control projects and the state police for "traffic control purposes." “We need to get our house in order in terms of where we’re really spending money where it should be spent,” Graves said. “We need to demand efficiency and truth in budgeting here.” K MAXIMIZE YOUR OPERATION'S POTENTIAL WITH PEOPLENET AND THE LOUISIANA MOTOR TRANSPORT ASSOCIATION The LMTA and Peoplenet have formed an alliance that will help LMTA members equip their trucks with all the latest fleet mobility solution technology at a discounted rate. • Hardware Discounts • Monthly service contract discount • Credit towards training sessions Contact the Louisiana Motor Transport Association at 225-928-5682 for more information. Open Road Q3 2016 ❘ 9

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