(The Center Square) – A new $170 million Belle Chasse Bridge, a public-private partnership, is expected to open next spring, and the developer will collect more than $748.2 million in tolls over the following three decades.

Louisiana Legislative Auditor Mike Waguespack issued a performance audit report last week detailing answers to numerous questions about the project prompted by a resolution passed by the legislature last session.

Auditors found the Belle Chasse P3 project complied with state law and applicable federal laws and regulations, and that the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development followed its procurement guidelines it created for the project. The project is currently DOTD’s only public-private partnership, and is slated to be completed in April 2024.

The total $170 million contract cost includes the design and construction of the new bridge, demolition of the old bridge, decommissioning of the Belle Chasse Tunnel, and additional costs due to change orders.

The developer is expected to cover 38.9% of the total cost, or about $66.1 million, with the rest coming from the federal government and no investment from the state. The P3 agreement allows the developer to collect tolls on the bridge for three decades.

“We … found that the developer potentially could collect toll revenues in excess of $748.2 million over the 30-year contract if the assumptions in the financial model are accurate,” auditors wrote. “This is not all profit for the developer because the developer will use this revenue to repay capital and interest on outstanding debt, to pay tolling administration costs, and to pay for operations and maintenance of the new bridge for up to 30 years.

“DOTD could also receive a share of toll revenue in excess of $22.2 million over this 30-year period,” the report read.

The audit shows DOTD spent a total of about $6.8 million on the project, with about $2.6 million on the planning phase and about $4.2 million on the procurement phase.

The developer will begin collecting tolls on the new bridge when it opens in both directions, and Plaquemines Parish residents with a typical automobile with a toll tag will get a lower rate of 25 cents each way in the first year. That rate will increase to 60 cents each way by year 30 of the contract.

For all tolls except those using the Plaquemines Parish resident toll tag, rates will be tied to the consumer price index and will increase with inflation.

“DOTD will pay the developer $875,000 annually during the term of the Belle Chasse P3 contract … to eliminate CPI adjustments on the tolls for Plaquemines Parish residents (as confirmed through valid vehicle registration address and driver’s license) driving a Class 1 automobile with a toll tag,” according to the report. “Plaquemines Parish residents without toll tags, regardless of vehicle type, and non-residents of Plaquemines Parish, regardless of vehicle type or toll tag status, will pay CPI-adjusted toll rates.”

Entities that will be exempt from tolls include publicly owned vehicles, groups of boys and girl scouts in uniform, firemen, law enforcement, emergency vehicles, uniformed military members, disabled veterans, and students on marked school buses.