Although the legislative push for a higher gas tax failed early in the legislative session, the Capital Region is nonetheless a few steps closer to the reality of a new Mississippi River bridge crossing and connectors than it was when session first began.
The Capital Area Road and Bridge District will meet again on Monday, June 17. At this convening, the Chair, five parish presidents, and DOTD secretary will receive an RFQ for enhanced planning for the bridge and its connectors on the east and west sides of the river. Enhanced planning is the preliminary part of an Environmental Impact Study, which the Federal Highway Authority describes as identifying “any adverse economic, social, and environmental effects of a proposed transportation project…which…could include air, water, or noise pollution; destruction or disruption of natural resources; adverse employment effects; injurious displacement of people or businesses; or disruption of desirable community or regional growth.”
Enhanced planning is expected to make some key determinations for the project. Chief among them is: where will the bridge be located? Prior studies for other proposed projects have identified five potential crossings. These have started on the west side as far south as Plaquemine and as a far north as between the two bridges in East Baton Rouge. Ultimately, enhanced planning, which includes public meetings and gathering of public input, will allow for an informed decision about the bridge’s location. Some of the factors that go into this decision are: projected use, cost, toll feasibility, and environmental impact. Ideally, the enhanced planning will identify one location that will move the most cars at the lowest environmental and monetary cost.
The Department of Transportation and Development will manage the enhanced planning in partnership with the Capital Area Road and Bridge District. Both parties will bring something critical to the table; DOTD has expertise in managing this type of mega-project, while the members of the District have the local relationships and accountability to keep the project moving forward in the way that best benefits the region.
With the RFQ approved, the Capital Region can begin the pre-construction activities required by the federal government. This kicks off the dreary, unsexy, and critically necessary work of defining the scope of the project, so that the region can have a new bridge and connectors as soon as possible. Here at BRAC, we’re excited about the momentum behind the project and we look forward to opportunities to engage our investors in the planning process.
As BRAC’s senior vice president of economic competitiveness, Liz leads the organization’s public policy advocacy, strategy, research, and reform activities aimed at advancing the quality of life and economic competitiveness of the Baton Rouge Region.