Trust must be restored to the Transportation Trust Fund before the state can begin to dig its way out of the transportation crisis that is brewing, all four Louisiana gubernatorial candidates said at a forum held in New Orleans this afternoon.
“It has not been done. It has hardly been started,” said U.S. Sen. David Vitter at the Southeast Super Region Committee’s forum at the People’s Health New Orleans Jazz Market.
Vitter joined two fellow Republicans, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, and Democratic Rep. John Bel Edwards, at the forum. Dardenne told the packed auditorium that transportation is the highest priority in the greater Baton Rouge and New Orleans regions.
Dardenne said more capital outlay funds need to be put toward transportation to address the issue. He also said he would add another Washington Street exit off Interstate 10 in Baton Rouge just off the Mississippi River Bridge and advocated for tolls on the north and south lanes of Interstate 49 in the state.
Vitter said if he is elected governor, he would assemble a group after his proposed special session to address the budget and develop a high-priority transportation building program that would help sort through the enormous $12 billion backlog of projects.
Edwards pointed out that the Legislature has developed a revenue stream to wean State Police off the $60 million it gets from the Transportation Trust Fund, so that money can go to transportation. He added that he would also allocate 25% of the capital outlay fund to transportation, which he said would come out to about $135 million.
Angelle agreed with the other candidates on the issue, calling for all of the money from the TFF to go to transportation and saying the state needs to think about using tolls on some roads and highways. Angelle said he would decentralize the state Department of Transportation and Development and create regional planning committees across the state for transportation projects.
Bill Hoffman, board chair for Greater New Orleans Inc.; Van Mayhall, Baton Rouge Area Chamber board chair; and Scott Melancon, South Louisiana Economic Council board chair, peppered the candidates with questions this afternoon ranging from transportation to economic development to spending reform. John Spain, executive vice president of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation and chairman of the Southeast Super Region Committee, served as moderator.