Louisiana pursues waiver for roadwork in Katrina’s wake

| 10/20/2005

Louisiana transportation officials told a legislative panel this week they want the go-ahead to widen congested highways in the Baton Rouge area without conducting arduous, federally required air-quality tests.

Eric Kalivoda, assistant secretary for the state's transportation department, said the expected post-Katrina population boom would make accurate pollution studies difficult in the ozone-polluted capital city.

"New York City got a waiver" after September 11, Kalivoda told Baton Rouge's The Advocate. "We feel we're entitled to that as well."

The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development is expected to solicit Congress to extend the time in which federal agencies foot the bill for emergency road projects.

Baton Rouge historically has high levels of ozone, the newspaper reported. As a result, the area is subject to ozone limits set by the federal Clean Air Act.

Part of that is showing that roadwork would not additionally hurt the city's air quality.

Additionally, time is running out to receive federal aid to pay for repairs resulting from the storm.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will stop paying the full cost of Katrina-related transportation projects at the end of the month, when the state will be responsible for 25 percent of costs.

The Federal Highway Administration also cuts states a break after disasters. The highway agency pays the full tab for emergency road restoration.

But the agency will require Louisiana to pay as much as 20 percent by the end of February.

If the state is unable to get an extension, Louisiana plans to borrow money to make the federal matches, The Advocate reported.

In all, Louisiana has sought $31.7 billion to repair and improve roads, bridges and flood controls. Most of the funds requested - $20 billion - would be used for levees from Morgan City to Slidell to withstand a Category 5 hurricane.

In the Baton Rouge area, $650 million would be used to expand interstate capacity, including the widening of Interstate 10 from west of the Mississippi River Bridge to the I-10/I-12 split.