SoLA emphasizes economic imperative of increased infrastructure funding
Baton Rouge La. (February 22, 2021) – The Southeast Super Region (SoLA) Committee voted to support the Government Reform in Transportation (GRIT) Act ahead of the 2021 regular session of the Louisiana legislature.
SoLA officially took a position of support on the infrastructure legislation because it provides essential funding for prioritized infrastructure projects across the Super Region, increases Louisiana’s competitiveness for matching federal funds, and reflects the widespread and overwhelming support throughout the Super Region to pursue intercity rail between the Baton Rouge and New Orleans metros. The legislation and its related influx of infrastructure funding will also increase equitable economic recovery and create jobs in the wake of COVID-19.
Adequately funding and prioritizing critical infrastructure projects across the Super Region has long been a focus of SoLA, comprised of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, Greater New Orleans, Inc. and the South Louisiana Economic Council (Houma/Thibodaux). SoLA’s priority transportation projects include, among others:
- Passenger rail service between Baton Rouge and New Orleans
- Deepening of the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge
- A new Mississippi River Bridge and connectors in the Baton Rouge Area
- Completion of the I-10 widening in the greater Baton Rouge Area
- Replacement of the Belle Chasse Tunnel
- Upgrades to I-49 South between Raceland and Des Allemands
- A new Florida Ave. Bridge over the Industrial Canal connecting Orleans and St. Bernard Parishes
SoLA members are committed to aggressively working to move the GRIT Act forward as a vital tool for economic recovery. “Not since our recovery from Hurricane Katrina have we faced such challenges. This time we’ll have to compete with every other region and state, so we’ve got to be ready. This bill will allow us to be prepared to draw down federal funds as they become available, while creating long-lasting economic growth for every region in our state,” said Roger Ogden, SoLA founder, developer and philanthropist who is known for his contributions to the post-Katrina comeback.
The GRIT Act, authored by State Representative Jack McFarland (R-Winnfield), reforms current use of Louisiana’s gas tax funds, creates increased taxpayer accountability through annual audits, and prioritizes transparency through a new real-time construction status map. More specifically, the bill shifts four cents of the existing fuel tax into the voter-created construction sub-fund. This reform ensures these funds will always go to construction and will never be absorbed by growth in the Department’s operating budget. In total, the bill moves the consumer investment in roads and bridges from 7th out of 50 states to near the national average. The bill’s plan also positions and requires the Department to draw down and capture every federal fund for construction that is available, making certain Louisiana gets its fair share of federal funds.
“This approach is the balance we need between realigning our spending and increasing our investment to get our economy moving,” said Erin Monroe Wesley, 2021 chair of SoLA and southeast vice president of government and public affairs for Cox Communications. “This effort presents a choice for our legislators: are we going to do what it takes to make Louisiana competitive and heal from this downturn in the economy or watch as our neighbor states do what we won’t?”
The GRIT Act will focus 60 percent of revenues, including billions in federal dollars, toward preservation, including rapid enhancements to highway pavement and broken bridges. Forty percent will go toward capacity projects, building the most important projects for the future of each region in the state.
“We have a chance to turn this disaster into an opportunity. No one knows how to do that like Louisianans. This is a responsible approach to planning for our long-term big projects, while we also take care of our backlog,” said C.J. Blache, 2020 chair of SoLA and attorney with Roedel Parsons.
McFarland, a business owner himself, has spent the last several months getting input from legislators, businesses and families across Louisiana. As a result, his infrastructure bill looks very different from prior legislation. “I’m not going to put my name on something that doesn’t help businesses and families and I’m bringing a bill that has investment for every region, guaranteed,” said McFarland. He plans to formally release the bill in the coming month. The legislative session starts April 12.
About the SoLA Super Region Committee
With over 2 million people, industry that supplies the world, and culture that entertains them, the SoLA Super Region offers one of the most diverse and rewarding set of options for business in America. The SoLA Super Region Committee is a partnership between the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, Greater New Orleans, Inc. and the South Louisiana Economic Council to foster cooperation for mutual economic benefits across southeast Louisiana. Founded in 2009, the Committee works with business interests and government bodies to pursue projects and policies that will benefit the entire SoLA Super Region. Click here for more information.