Photo courtesy of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development

Louisiana shoots down P3 plan for I-10 bridge replacement

October 27, 2023

Louisiana lawmakers have nixed the idea of a public-private partnership (P3) to replace the Interstate 10 bridge outside Lake Charles. Numerous transportation watchers say the decision will likely force the state to construct the bridge at a higher cost and in piecemeal fashion over the next three decades.

The Joint House and Senate Transportation, Highways and Public Works committee voted Tuesday to kill the proposed P3 between the Louisiana Department of Transportation & Development and Calcasieu Bridge Partners. Prior to Tuesday, officials anticipated construction to start in 2024 and to take about seven years.

Calcasieu Bridge Partners needed the joint committee’s blessing this month to close out proposed financing, which incorporated prices and proposals of more than 150 contractors, vendors and suppliers. The cost of the project was estimated at $2.1 billion. That price included $800 million in public funding.

The decision was a reversal of progress on the project. The legislative committee signed off on the P3 concept in December 2020. However, it soured on the idea in part because proposed toll rates were heavily weighted toward local and long-haul truckers. For example, the proposed rates for large trucks were $12.50 with a toll tag and $18.73 without. In contrast, automobiles and medium trucks would’ve paid less than $4 with a toll tag and about $2.50 without.

Louisiana planned to use state and federal funding to put $800 million down on the project. The federal grants could be rescinded without a firm completion date, Eric Kalivoda, the state’s transportation secretary, told committee members Tuesday. Additionally, six years of vehicle sales tax set aside for the project, at $240 million, will likely be eroded by inflation if the timeline is extended, he said.

Committee leaders suggested the agency’s warnings about project overruns were overblown. Another pegged refurbishment at a few hundred million dollars, rather than the estimated $2.1 billion.

With the P3 off the table, the state will have two options, Kalivoda said. One would be a pay-as-you-go design-build option. However, that approach could take up to 30 years to complete, he said. A second option would create a public toll operation the transportation agency would operate.

Opened in 1952, the existing span is a four lane, precast concrete and steel Warren truss bridge over Calcasieu Lake. The 5.5-mile replacement project would include a lower, wider bridge with more lanes, full shoulders and better lighting. The project also includes refurbishing highway lanes, ramps, service roads and interchanges.

The Calcasieu River Bridge was the Louisiana Department of Transportation & Development’s second proposed P3. The Belle Chasse bridge and tunnel project, currently under construction, will replace the existing structures with a fixed-span four-lane bridge. The bridge/tunnel crosses the Intercoastal Waterway just outside New Orleans.

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