Gas tax increase a possible fix for Louisiana's poor-ranking infrastructure

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A quick glance at Louisiana's infrastructure shows the glaring need for repairs and improvements, including its bridges which were given a D+ in a recent study.

"I think we are pretty much approaching a crisis situation," President of Louisiana Good Roads and Transportation Association Ken Perret said. "The La. Department of Transportation and Development's information shows a backlog of about $12-14 billion of now needs. That's not counting future roads and project that haven't been built yet."

Five parishes in our area have more than 50 bridges each categorized as "poor" or "structurally deficient," according to the Federal Highway Administration. The FHWA also said 14 percent of the state's are structurally deficient.

Perret said the state has an intensive inspection process and any bridged deemed unsafe would close immediately. If the structurally deficient bridges are not addressed, there is the possibility that the state will close them down.

"If you're not using a bridge, it's not that important, but if you're using that bridge every day and it's closed, then you have to figure out an alternate route. That could be miles and miles of extra travel and time, and people are going to start seeing the effect of that in the next few years," Perret said.

Four of the top six most-traveled structurally deficient bridges in Louisiana are in Jefferson and Orleans Parish, according to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association. They include both overpasses on Interstate-10 that cross over Veterans Boulevard in Metairie, the I-10 overpass at Loyola Avenue in Kenner, and the Pontchartrain Boulevard overpass that crosses I-10 and I-610 near the Orleans and Jefferson Parish boundary.

According to the LaDOTD, a structurally deficient categorization does not mean a bridge is unsafe. A spokesperson with the agency stated in an email that the term is "used to identify structures that could qualify for rehabilitation or replacement because of structural related repair needs."

"It's a matter of trying to plug a lot of holes in the dike, as well as trying to keep the national interest in the economy going. The squeaky wheel gets the grease and that's how the system works," American Society of Civil Engineers Deborah Keller said.

The ASCE's report card for Louisiana gave the state an overall grade of D+. A "D" grade is poor.

"It shows you we have aging infrastructure like the rest of the United States, and we have a critical need for funding," she said.

Keller believes one of the reasons the state's infrastructure is lacking is because the gasoline tax has not been increased in 30 years. Last year, Louisiana voters approved a measure that would make sure any additional tax on gasoline would only be used to fund infrastructure projects and not spent on any other issue.

"Gasoline taxes are not keeping pace with inflation. You can not build a $100 million bridge today collecting $15 million of what built a bridge 40 years ago," Keller said.

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