Originally published on AmericanPress.com, written by Rita Lebleu.
Lake Charles will get a new Calcasieu River-Interstate-10 bridge. Construction will take an estimated seven years. It will be tolled, and it will be a Public Private Partnership (P3) endeavor with the same partner, Calcasieu Parish Bridge Partners.
It sounds much like the plan rejected in October 2023, but there are differences. The scope of the new project was presented to the Louisiana Joint Transportation Committee Tuesday, and it voted 11-2 in favor of the project. State Sen. Mark Abraham — who represents District 25, which includes Lake Charles — spoke in favor of the plan and made the motion to approve it on behalf of the Senate. Rep. Ryan Bourriaque, District 47, is also on the committee and voted in favor of the bridge.
Abraham called the decision gut-wrenching. “We looked at getting more federal money. We looked at getting more state money. I don’t like tolls. I don’t like the tolls the truckers will have to pay,” he said. “But it came down to, do you want a tolled bridge or do you want no bridge?”
He also weighed the choice of repairing the bridge now with building a new bridge later, but said the cost of construction and tolls would likely be higher as he has seen this bridge go from a cost of $800 million to $2 billion in a relatively short amount of time.
Newly appointed Louisiana Department of Transportation Secretary Terrence “Joe” Donahue Jr. highlighted the differences between the bridge plan rejected in October 2023 and the one presented on Tuesday.
In the new plan, truck commercial rates are reduced by one-third.
“That comes along with additional public funds to bring that rate down,” Donahue said. “The previous toll schedule placed an outsized burden on commercial trucks.”
Trucking companies, including local small operations, will pay in the millions over the 50-year toll period.
Todd Hine of Hine Environmental Services in Sulphur, started his company 20 years ago. He said he would pay $6.2 million over 50 years. Hine also pointed out that a previous trucking company who testified the tolls would cost his operation $16 million had not figured in the cost of price increase each year. Truckers said that cost will be passed on to the consumer.
The DOTD estimates that 60 percent of the commercial truckers who use the bridge will be from out of state.
In addition to the changes in the tolls, the state will now receive 14 to 16 percent of the tolling revenue beginning the first year.
New I-10 Lake Charles Bridge will cost less.
The biggest change, and the one that Gov. Jeff Landry was referring to when he announced Lake Charles would get a new bridge but for 25 percent less, is this: In the original contract, the DOTD retained costs and risks at $415 million. This amount has been reduced to $280 million.
Additionally, the market has shifted, resulting in a $100 million in benefit compared to where we were three months ago, Donahue said.
While a final design has not been approved by DOTD, the secretary said that spanning, rather than relocating train tracks and the overhead Phillips66 pipe rack in Westlake, will account for a savings in $125 million that the government would have had to pay those third party entities because of delay claims.
Four categories are now being considered for tolls. Local vehicles will pay 25-cents. That covers “any private vehicle registered in the five-parish area regardless of size,” Donahue said. Privately owned trucks and cars will pay 25 cents. A privately-owned truck pulling a boat or trailer with their four-wheelers will pay 25 cents.
For those who don’t live in Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron or Jeff Davis parishes, the toll-tag rate is $2.50. Without a toll tag, the cost will be $3.75.
Autos overs 20 feet (the medium truck category) will pay $2.55 and $3.82 respectively. Large trucks will pay $8.25 and $12.36 respectively.
Local vehicles and autos with tags traveling with three people or more will cross the bridge with a 50 percent savings, 13 cents and $1.25 respectively.
“This is, to me, really a safety issue given the design of the existing bridge, “ Donahue said. “It really does cause problems made evident from the recent cold weather event.”
He said noo funding source can build the bridge without tolling. Financial close is estimated to be the first week of April. “That will fix all the terms that were estimates,” Donahue said and “we will go forward from there with fixed costs.”