'Everything' on the table to boost road funding in Louisiana

| 8/3/2006

Concern about how to pay for needed road and bridge work in Louisiana has transportation officials in the state studying a wide range of options.

Higher fuel taxes, partnering with private groups and registration and fee increases are among the suggestions being offered to help finance the state’s $12 billion backlog of road construction, The Advocate in Baton Rouge, LA, reported.

Johnny Bradberry, secretary for the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, said that no decisions have been made about how to pay for the backlog of road and bridge work, which will cost more than $200 million a year for upkeep.

That being said, Bradberry told the newspaper that “everything is on the table” in terms of what will go into any proposal. The secretary said he plans to make his suggestions to state leaders by year’s end so the state Legislature can get to work on solutions as soon as the 2007 session begins.

The state transportation agency oversees nearly 17,000 miles of roads, including nearly 900 miles of interstate and 14,000 bridges, The Advocate reported. The annual budget is $2.2 billion.

Concern about fast-rising fuel prices has many officials trying to avoid any serious consideration of higher fuel taxes. Truckers and other drivers now pay 20 cents-per-gallon in state fuel taxes.

Another option that likely will generate a lot of discussion is allowing the state to partner with private groups to build toll roads and bridges.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco signed a bill into law in June that authorizes the Louisiana Transportation Authority to work out details with private groups to build roads, bridges or expand an existing facility. The private business would keep toll revenue in exchange for upkeep.

Any state project proposed by a private contractor would go before the House and Senate transportation panels for a review hearing. However, lawmakers couldn’t reject proposed deals.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor