More money for highway projects liklely headed here

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 28, 1998

By Leonard Gray / L’Observateur / March 28, 1998

WASHINGTON – All three River Parishes should benefit from a U.S. Housetransportation bill which will pump millions of dollars into area highway projects.

It will pump $2.7 billion to Louisiana over the next six years.Ken Johnson, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Billy Tauzin, said the bill, whichcleared the House Transportation Committee by a 69-0 vote, would increase Louisiana’s share of federal gasoline tax revenues.

That money, which Louisiana had been receiving on a basis of 83 to 87 cents on the dollar, will now likely go up to 91 to 95 cents on the dollar.

That translates to approximately $450 million per year, Johnson said.

Unanimous passage also sends a strong indication the full House will approve the measure before it heads into a joint transportation committee for review along with a similar Senate measure.

Either way, Johnson said, Louisiana wins. “Either way, it’s a hell of a lotmore money.”Besides the $450 million per year of “formula funding,” Johnson continued that Tauzin pushed for an additional $10 million in “demonstration projects” for highways in south Louisiana.

A host of Louisiana highway projects have been earmarked to receive shares of this influx of federal funds. In the River Parishes, the projectsinclude: * St. Charles Parish – extension of Interstate 49 from Lafayette south tothe West Bank Expressway in Jefferson Parish, an estimated $5.5 millionfor engineering, design and possibly some construction money.

The funds would be used to determine ways to deal with controlling access as U.S. Highway 90 is upgraded to interstate quality.* St. John the Baptist Parish – construction of the so-called Avenue of theAmericas highway, extending from the Globalplex facility of the Port of South Louisiana in Reserve to Interstate 10.

Port Executive Director Gary LaGrange commented much of the push for inclusion of this project came from the St. John Parish delegationattending the National Association of County Organizations (NACo) conference recently in Washington. There, LaGrange said, delegates metwith Tauzin and Rep. Bob Livingston and made vital contacts with Sen.John Breaux and Sen. Mary Landrieu’s offices.LaGrange said the parish delegates also proposed a slightly alternate route than that originally proposed to take advantage of a natural ridge in the area for the road’s construction, an added incentive being less wetlands impact.

“The message is pretty positive and upbeat,” LaGrange said. “It’s a perfectintermodal transportation bill.”* St. James Parish – construction of an interstate-grade highway from theHouma-Thibodaux area, linking I-49 with I-10 by way of the Veterans Memorial Bridge at Gramercy.

One advantage of all this highway construction is added hurricane evacuation routes, easing the way in case of a massive evacuation of the New Orleans area. Johnson said in the past this money being paid byLouisiana was subsidizing highway construction in states such as Massachusetts.

“Louisiana was given a disproportionately low percentage of the money,” Johnson added. “We were getting screwed.”The joint House-Senate transportation committee to now study the bills, which differ mainly by the Senate offering 91 cents on the dollar and the House offering 95 cents, still mean more money coming back to Louisiana and other Southern states.

And, with a Congressional election around the corner, Johnson concluded, “I’ve got a sneaking suspicion they may buy into the whole thing. All wewant is a level playing field.”

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