Thrive March 2021

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Places & Faces | 2021 ECONOMIC UPDATE

NEW I-10 BRIDGE Moving Closer to Reality

by Kristy Como Armand

The process to construct a new I-10 Calcasieu River Bridge is underway. In January, the state of Louisiana announced plans to solicit a developer for the I-10 Calcasieu River Bridge Public-Private Partnership (P3) Project in Lake Charles. For members of the Chamber SWLA I-10 Bridge Task Force, this announcement came exactly two years after the group released their recommendations for an action plan that would replace the aging, inadequate structure. The Task Force’s plan was the result of two years of extensive research and due diligence regarding infrastructure financing, design and construction. Now, members are seeing that plan move forward. “It’s such a critical part of our nation’s infrastructure and the replacement has been delayed for different reasons for over 30 years,” says Keith DuRousseau, chairman of the Bridge Task Force. When the current I-10 Calcasieu River bridge opened for traffic in 1952, it was designed for a traffic load of 37,000 per day and a 50year life span. Today, the average daily crossings are over 90,000. The National Bridge Inventory (NBI) has rated the bridge a 6.6 out of 100. Replacing the bridge has been a topic of concern and debate for decades. DuRousseau says every year the project is delayed results in about $25 million per year in increased costs due to inflation. “This isn’t just a Southwest Louisiana issue,” he adds. “Regional growth and our future economic stability are at risk because of this weak link in our infrastructure. Continued delay will also have national and international impacts on all of the production, manufacturing and transport that takes place along the I-10 corridor.” DuRousseau says this is why the Chamber formed the Task Force nearly four years ago – to have a group of local business leaders working persistently to keep state and federal attention on this bridge, not stopping until a new one is built. “We could not be more pleased and excited about the state’s decision to move forward on this project,” he states. 56

Thrive Magazine for Better Living • March 2021

With the support of Governor John Bel Edwards, LA- DOTD applied for and received approval in December to procure a public-private partner to deliver the bridge project. Just three weeks later, the NOI (Notice of Intent) process was started, further signaling the state’s commitment to the project. “The state has issued a Notice of Intent, seeking interested partnerships for the bridge, the state’s third P3 project,” said LA-DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson, PH. D. “This department is committed to using innovative procurement methods and following industry best practices for infrastructure projects to meet the needs of our motorists and communities.” The limits of the P3 project extend from the I-10/I-210 west interchange to the Ryan Street exit ramp on the eastside of the bridge. The major elements of work are in line with the original recommendations of the I-10 Task force and consist of:

• Replacement of the Calcasieu River Bridge

• Reconfiguration of interchanges • Interstate widening • Complex maintenance of traffic

and sequence of construction in a congested and confined urban freeway environment • Demolition of the existing bridge • Automated tolling and back-office services • Railroad relocation • Right-of-Way appraisal and acquisition services • Utility coordination and relocation With a P3, bids will be obtained from private companies to construct a new bridge. The company will collect a toll to pay for construction. A P3 with tolling is a proven solution for infrastructure projects across the country. According to DuRousseau, a P3 essentially harnesses private expertise

for public benefit. “This bid process will take two years and the project will be awarded based on various criteria, one of which will be the amount of the toll. The Task Force and the state favor the lowest toll possible for the shortest period of time.” The state has already committed $85 million for the project, with additional state funding possible. Other options for funding the bridge are not currently available, but DuRousseau stresses that replacement cannot continue to be delayed. “We are hopeful the recently installed Biden administration will follow through on federal commitments to infrastructure funding that will help fund the new bridge,” he says. “We are working with our federal delegation to keep our project in front of new Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who has recently emphasized the importance of investment in infrastructure.” He adds that the I-10 Task Force will continue to help pursue any and all available funding, such as federal grants, possible federal infrastructure bills, state funds and environmental settlements to lower the amount financed, which will lower the toll amount. “Support from our community leaders remains critically important as well. We need local leaders to continue advocating at the state and federal level for funding of this project. Our voices need to be heard to keep it moving forward.” Currently, the bridge project is in the environmental phase. Three alternatives have been identified and will be evaluated in the Environmental Impact Statement. A fourth public meeting for the entire corridor will be scheduled in spring 2021 to present preliminary findings that will determine which of these alternatives is preferred. A Record of Decision is anticipated by early 2022.

Learn more about the I-10 Calcasieu River Bridge Task Force's efforts to securing a replacement bridge at www.buildourbridge.org.