Mississippi Bridge coalition eyeing state surplus to fund next steps

A critical next step for the five-parish Capital Area Road and Bridge District, tasked with developing a new Mississippi River span, is to secure funding to complete an environmental impact study, which is required for the effort to move forward.

Where that money comes from could be decided soon.

CARBD leaders and state Sen. Rick Ward are eyeing the state budget surplus to fund the study and other preliminary steps for the district. The other option is state capital outlay funds, though those dollars would take longer to receive than surplus funds.

“The governor’s administration mentioned it would like the bulk of the surplus to go to infrastructure,” says Ward, who sponsored legislation creating the CARBD last year. “Our delegation has requested that, if possible, we get a substantial amount sent over to the road and bridge authority to complete the study.”

Completing the environmental study for the bridge—which was started years ago as part of the loop study—will cost some $5 million, Ward says, but the district plans to ask for more than that to potentially expedite the process and cover other expenses, such as a program manager.

The state has an estimated $300 million surplus, but $100 million or so is constitutionally required to go to the “rainy day fund” and paying off debt. So the CARBD will be asking for a chunk of the remaining $200 million, though an exact amount has not been nailed down yet.

Ward expects the state to make a decision on how to spend the surplus funds within the last few days of the Legislative session, which ends June 6.

“I feel confident we’ll leave the session with a significant amount for the authority to start making progress on necessary steps,” Ward says.

The five-parish district, meanwhile, is working on other necessary efforts to move forward with a new bridge, such as drafting a Request for Qualifications to hire a project manager for the district and—of course—identifying funding for the new bridge.

The CARBD is also quietly drawing significant support and interest. The district’s third public meeting on Monday drew a crowd that included U.S. Rep. Garret Graves and several individuals from the private sector interested in the prospect of a public-private partnership, which was discussed at the meeting, Ward says.

Nial Patel, a local developer and lobbyist, says he was one of about 30 to 40 people who attended the meeting. Patel, a BRAC board member, says he’s helping with the district’s efforts and encouraging others to get involved.

“I’ve been telling people if you support a new bridge, show up at these meetings,” Patel says. “We’re helping move the ball forward. I think progress is being made. Some people want to jump to step 10, but we have to cover the other steps to get there.”

Original Article by Annie Ourso Landry at the Business Report