Our Views: Louisiana traffic problems ‘an urgent issue’; legislators, take note

The Advocate

Time is money, as the saying goes, and a great deal of time and money are lost in traffic in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. It’s been true for a while, and has been freshly documented in new studies.

But the wear and tear on cars is also a factor in the studies’ estimate of the staggering costs of traffic congestion in both cities, among the worst for communities of similar size in America.

Motorists in Baton Rouge and New Orleans pay $2,466 and $2,171 per year respectively because because of poor quality, congested and unsafe roads and bridges.

Nationally, it’s about a $6.5 billion per year problem, according to a report by TRIP, a national transportation research group.

The new study really only verifies, with modest changes in methodology, the data already collected by the state Department of Transportation and Development.

“We realize that the need is great and the time to do something is now,” DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson said.

The announcement comes just before the start of the 2017 regular legislative session, where a push to increase the state gasoline tax to finance transportation improvements is expected to be a key issue.

It is not yet clear how the legislative pathway toward infrastructure improvements will work out, although the main source of funding is the gasoline tax. Today, total taxes are 38.4 cents per gallon, but only 20 cents of that are in state taxes, with 16 cents per gallon for rank-and-file projects.

It has been decades since those numbers went up to their current levels, and Gov. John Bel Edwards has decried the problem. Today’s taxes have about half the buying power, in new roads and repairs, as when originally enacted.

The costs of gasoline taxes are thus low compared to most other states, although some — Texas included — subsidize road repairs from their general funds, and local governments in most states bear more of the burdens than do Louisiana parishes.

But the new studies show the family budgets and costs of owning vehicles are also out of whack, in the daily costs of tangled commutes and car repairs.

In 2015, the TRIP study found that Baton Rouge had the 11th-worst roads among midsized cities in America. The latest report said two-thirds of major local and state-maintained urban roads are in poor or mediocre condition, 13 percent of such bridges are structurally deficient and Louisiana has the seventh-highest rate of traffic crashes in the nation.

Adam Knapp, president and CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, noted that the Louisiana Poll conducted by the LSU Public Policy Lab found that an increase in the gasoline tax is favored by a majority of respondents.

“This is an urgent issue,” Knapp said.

He is right, and the Legislature should take note.

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