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Tolling Points

Louisiana's Tolled P3 Will Be First of Many

Bill Cramer

It took two years of negotiations and an array of innovative financing mechanisms. But late last year, Louisiana finally declared victory on its first-ever public-private partnership (P3) for transportation infrastructure, a $162-million tolled project that will replace an obsolete movable tunnel and bridge in Plaquemines Parish.

The tunnel first opened in the mid-1950s, the bridge in the 1960s, and both now receive average daily traffic volume of 35,000 vehicles. The new structures will “ease traffic flow into and out of the Belle Chasse Naval Air Station, improve commute times for parish residents, and make hurricane evacuation routes more efficient for motorists,” AASHTO Journal reports.

The Advocate says the project got a thumbs-up from a joint state House-Senate Transportation Committee, despite strenuous local objections to including tolling in the plan. Transportation and Development Secretary Shawn Wilson said bridge tolls would begin at 25¢ per trip, rising to 60¢ after 30 years.

"Over the course of 30 years, you are talking about increases that are very minimal," he told state legislators.

Setting the Stage for More

Official announcements for the project suggest it may be the first of many.

“This is a major accomplishment in that we are utilizing tools never before used in Louisiana,” said Governor John Bel Edwards. “We have made history and have set the stage for many more transportation accomplishments over the next four years.”

“Innovation is never easy, but in the absence of sustainable revenue to meet Louisiana’s transportation needs, public-private partnerships and tolling options are the only other means of delivering transportation infrastructure the public is demanding,” Secretary Wilson added.

“After 24 months of procurement processes, negotiations and public input on this alternative delivery method, Louisiana has crossed the finish line and has opened the door to new opportunities to deliver infrastructure in Louisiana.”

The Advocate coverage points to the risk the state would have run if the Belle Chasse plan had been defeated, citing a new bridge across the Mississippi River at Baton Rouge as another upcoming P3 opportunity. Flynn Foster, a member of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber of Commerce, warned before the vote that a rejection would “have ramifications well beyond Belle Chasse”.

"Adequate infrastructure is essential to the growth of Plaquemines Parish," agreed Michelle Herbert, chair of the Plaquemines Association of Business and Industry.

Funding from All Directions

Under the P3, Plenary Infrastructure Belle Chasse, LLC will carry out the Belle Chasse Bridge/Tunnel Replacement Project with $45-million from the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) program, $26.2 million in federal and state funding, and $12 million in federal dollars allocated by the New Orleans-area Regional Planning Commission. The Advocate says the INFRA grant was a win in itself, one of only 26 awarded across the country out of 200 applications.

Up to 10 percent of the project cost will be covered by Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle (GARVEE) bond proceeds made possible by future tolling revenue. Construction is set to begin next summer and conclude in spring 2024.

Get the latest on innovative infrastructure financing! Mark your calendar for the IBTTA/TRB/AASHTO International Transportation Finance Summit, May 7-9, 2020 in Denver.

Newsletter publish date: 
Tuesday, February 11, 2020 - 09:30


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