- Associated Press - Sunday, December 20, 2020

LAKE CHARLES, La. (AP) - A Louisiana legislative committee has approved a plan to seek private operators to build and maintain a new bridge over the Calcasieu River in Lake Charles in exchange for toll revenues.

The new Interstate 10 bridge, estimated to cost between $600 million and $800 million, would replace a 68-year-old structure built before the interstate highway system. Officials say it doesn’t meet current highway standards.

The Joint Committee on Transportation, Highways and Public Works approved the plan for the state to seek proposals and sign a contract on Thursday.

It’s unclear what the toll might be.

“I am not interested in seeing a $6 toll (or) a $5 toll,” Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Shawn Wilson told the American Press of Lake Charles. “I’m interested in seeing the least amount of money we can get for the shortest amount of time.”



George Swift, president and CEO of the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance, said area officials want the lowest toll possible.

“I think we can confidently say this is about the only way we see that it can be done,” Swift said.

A private entity would partner with the state to pay for construction of the bridge in exchange for a long-term agreement to operate the structure and recoup its investment.

“We all agree that the time is now to deliver this bridge as best we can,” Wilson said. “Waiting is no longer an option, and the cost is only going to increase.”

He noted that the state hasn’t increased its gasoline tax in more than 30 years, sapping public funding.

“We’re not in a position to pay for this with our own resources,” he said. “There’s no way we could deliver this project or any other billion-dollar project, quite frankly, with the 16-cent tax that dates back to the 1990s. You have to attract private investment.”

The Lake Charles project is nearing the end of the environmental phase. Three potential locations have been identified.

A site decision is expected in 2022 and a contract could be awarded in early 2023.

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