8 months ago


Untangling the Louisiana

Untangling the Louisiana H By Ted Griggs A newly appointed task force has until the end of the year to solve a conundrum that has stymied lawmakers for decades: find a way to pay for a $13 billion backlog of road and bridge work as well as $10.5 billion worth of mega projects in the Statewide Transportation Plan. LA DOTD Secretary and task force co-chair Dr. Shawn Wilson said the members plan to take advantage of work that’s already been done to identify the feasibility Governor's Task Force to and demand for the projects, the stakeholders affected, and the history of funding mechanisms for that work. The task force will also look at the best practice of other states, such as gasoline taxes and public-private partnerships. “We’re going to spend the next six months really integrating all of those aspects. That conversation is going to take us around the state working with the metropolitan planning organizations, working with the economic development organizations to really un- derstand the value of what these projects mean to these communities and to those businesses in those communities,” he said. The task force members also hope to get a handle on what voters around the state are willing to do to invest in and build Louisiana’s infrastructure, Wilson said. At the end of the day, the task force wants to give the governor and the Legislature options that can be acted on quickly. Although most task force members say it’s far too early to say whether a funding path has emerged, increasing the state’s gasoline tax is frequently mentioned. The tax, now 20 cents per gallon, hasn’t been adjusted to reflect the impact of inflation, increased traffic and higher construction costs. Greg Morrison, former chair of the Louisiana Motor Transport Association Board of Directors and Vice President of Quality Transport Inc., said he’s not ready to endorse indexing the fuel tax. “But we have to have some type of mechanism in place so that we don’t go as many years as we’ve gone without addressing infrastructure and transportation needs,” Morrison said. "Louisiana can’t go another 25 years using the same old Band-Aid approach," he said. "The state needs a sustainable transportation and infrastructure funding source, one that can adapt to the changes that will inevitably come in transportation." 14 ❘ Open Road Q3 2016

ighway Funding Dilemma Recommend Options "Think about how many people had cell phones 25 years ago," he said. "Now consider how many people have landlines or the last time you saw a pay phone." "In 25 years, 30 percent of cars could easily be electric. The state’s transportation funding model must be able to adapt. The state may need a long-term planning committee that meets once a year or so to consider the impacts of technology." A previous effort to link the gas tax to the consumer price index failed. Supporters said the impact would be minimal, $2.40 per year for the average driver. But truckers, who can put 300 gallons of fuel into their tanks, would face a much bigger burden. Revenue Secretary Kimberly Robinson said it will take a little time to identify the funding needed while finding a way to balance the project backlog and the need for continued investment. "The task force will need to look at the state’s existing investment structure and determine whether that represents the best path forward or if other options might be better," Robinson said. However, she is confident the task force can identify funding sources and make some recommendations on them. Ann Trappey, President and CEO of engineering firm Forte & Tablada, said every area in the state recognizes there isn’t nearly enough funding for transportation, particularly roads and bridges. But the money spent on transportation and infrastructure is an investment in the state, she said. Trappey hopes the task force can convince the Legislature that investment has to be made, and made boldly enough to truly make a difference for Louisiana. “The reality is every area of the state needs something,” Trappey said. For example, Lake Charles needs a new Interstate 10 bridge to replace the “old and terrible” structure now being used. Baton Rouge has enormous problems with traffic congestion. The task force will need to answer questions about the level of funding and how that will be generated, she said. “I believe that the majority of the Legislature gets it. The question is whether two-thirds (will vote for it),” Trappey said. Ken Naquin, CEO of Louisiana Associated General Contractors, said everything is on the table for funding, from fuel taxes and registration fees to sales taxes on auto parts and permit fees. Naquin said transportation’s current funding level jeopardizes both economic development and residents’ quality of life. “I think the people are tired of sitting in traffic. I think the people are tired of riding on bad roads. People are tired of taking detours because bridges are closed because they’re nonfunctional,” Naquin said. “I think the people of Louisiana are tired of it. They’ve had enough.” Last year, the group pushed for a 10-cent increase on the gas tax. The Legislature rejected that effort. The LMTA opposed the idea. Naquin said the average driver pays $108 in fuel taxes, less than many people spend going out to eat on a weekend. Tom Yura, Chairman of the Louisiana Chemical Association, said figuring out how to solve the funding Open Road Q3 2016 ❘ 15

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