BATON ROUGE - Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Johnny Bradberry on Wednesday urged U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta to help Louisiana get more federal highway funding.
“Secretary Mineta welcomed us with open arms, and I feel good we had a meaningful discussion,” Bradberry said. Bradberry used the meeting to push for federal support – and federal dollars - for Louisiana’s highway needs.
“I reiterated to him the importance of reauthorization to Louisiana,” Bradberry said, referring to the long-delayed bill to finance highway maintenance and construction across the country for the next six years. “It’s starting to get very difficult and complicated. Projects are starting to get delayed. We have preliminary engineering work that cannot get started because of the way the funding comes to us.”
Bradberry met with Mineta on Wednesday as he completed his tour of Washington, D.C. officials. Bradberry also met with members of Louisiana’s Congressional delegation and their staffs and with Mary Peters, Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration.
Bradberry wants officials to support passage of the federal highway bill, which has been stalled in Congress since September of 2003. Federal highway funding has been approved by a series of emergency temporary measures since then, but states have a difficult time planning for future projects when there is no long-term federal financing plan.
“Passage of the six-year bill is essential to Louisiana because it would allow us to plan future projects with the commitment of federal funds,” Bradberry said. DOTD already is seeking about $40 million in reimbursements from the federal government because no federal funds were available for approved projects.
The main source of federal highway funds is the 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gasoline tax. Louisiana is a “donor state” because citizens send more gas taxes to Washington than are returned to Louisiana in the form of federal transportation funds.
“I asked Mr. Mineta to support Louisiana getting 95 cents of every dollar we send to Washington,” Bradberry said, noting that Louisiana now gets less than 90 cents on the dollar. “I told him what it meant to the state of Louisiana to get that money. Over a six-year period it would mean about $900 million.”
Mineta told Bradberry that “they are trying to raise the rate-of-return level. I feel good that we’ll see some increase. I don’t know if we’ll get to 95 cents.”
Although Mineta did not make hard commitments to Louisiana, he said Bradberry’s emphasis on efficiency and process improvement within DOTD “is music to my ears.”
“He’s very interested in and supportive of our business-like approach to DOTD,” Bradberry said.
Bradberry also asked Mineta to support funding Louisiana’s high-priority projects, including Interstate 49 and LA 1.
Completing the northern part of Interstate 49 from Shreveport to the Arkansas line will cost about $320 million. The Lafayette-to-New Orleans segment, which is an important hurricane evacuation route, will cost more than $2 billion to complete. I-49 eventually will link the Port of New Orleans to Canada, making it an important economic development project.
The LA 1 project will rebuild the bridge at Leeville and build a new, elevated road to Port Fouchon. This will provide a safe route for hurricane evacuation and a reliable route to access the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP), from which about 20 percent of the nation’s oil supply is offloaded. About one million barrels of oil is offloaded each day at LOOP, and LA 1 provides the only route from LOOP into the continental United States.
DOTD is trying to get a federal loan to finance construction of LA 1. The loan would be re-paid at least partly through tolls.
Bradberry also spent Tuesday and Wednesday meeting with Louisiana Senators and Representatives. He said he had three objectives in meeting the delegation members: he wanted to build a relationship with them, he wanted to talk about how important reauthorization is to Louisiana, and he wanted to stress the importance of high-priority projects, particularly the completion of I-49.