Though the state is grappling with a massive budget deficit for both this fiscal year and next, a Baton Rouge economic development leader says the newly minted Edwards administration should consider allowing lawmakers to push transportation-related bills during an upcoming special session on the fiscal crisis to address the Capital Region’s traffic woes.
“We’re imploring that the administration consider a special session call that is big enough to allow the legislators who might want to introduce bills to address transportation funding to be allowed to do so if they can garner the votes to get it through the process,” said Adam Knapp, president and CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, during a speech today to the Press Club of Baton Rouge. “That is how urgent the situation for transportation is for the region.”
While daily gridlock has been a headache for Capital Region drivers for years if not decades, the problem has received more attention as of late, thanks in part to the contentious governor’s race in 2015. A coalition of local business leaders—known as Capital Region Industry for Sustainable Infrastructure Solutions, or CRISIS—pushed the gubernatorial candidates for specific plans to address the issue.
BRAC, which is a part of CRISIS, has also made transportation fixes one of its utmost priorities, particularly in its five-year strategic plan released last week.
Knapp hammered home the importance of transportation overhauls several times during his Press Club speech today. He outlined BRAC’s list of eight “big priorities” for the Capital Region, and No. 1 on the list was nailing down a permanent solution for Interstate 10 in the city—the biggest source of frustration for most area drivers.
“Frankly, we were surprised that the governor’s menu of options released last week did not include transportation funding as one of the options,” Knapp said, noting the plans that Gov. John Bel Edwards unveiled last week for fixing the state’s budget deficits. “And while we know that it doesn’t go necessarily directly to closing the budget shortfall, it is absolutely a need that the region has and just the same level of crisis that the state is facing in its budget crisis today.”
The scope, or the exact date, of the special session is unclear. Edwards has yet to call one, though it’s been widely speculated that it will start around mid-February and will focus on the state budget crisis. The special session was a campaign promise of Edwards and other gubernatorial candidates.
An Edwards spokesman did not respond to a request for comment by this afternoon’s deadline.