Issues

State Official: New Mississippi River Crossing Could Cost More Than $1 Billion; Funding Unclear

Horace Wilkinson Bridge over the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Horace Wilkinson Bridge over the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge, Louisiana / Wikimedia Commons

A new Mississippi River crossing in the Capital Region may cost more than $1 billion, and tolls would only pay for a small portion of that cost, a state transportation official said Tuesday.

Eric Kalivoda, deputy secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, said an initial estimate showed tolls would cover only about 17 percent of the cost of the bridge. Officials are working on a detailed study of the issue, but it’s safe to say tolls would cover no more than a quarter of the cost, he said.

Kalivoda spoke at the first meeting of the Capital Area Road and Bridge District, a five-parish regional taxing authority created by legislation approved last year and tasked with finding a way to pay for a new Mississippi River crossing. Funding options could include tolls, new taxes, state and federal dollars and private financing.

The district has the ability to issue bonds. Whatever plan they come up with would be voted on by the region’s residents.

Officials are considering five different potential crossings that would range in cost from $733 million to $1.064 billion, according to estimates presented Tuesday. As envisioned, the main span would include six lanes and shoulders on both sides.

Including rail would add an additional $1.5 billion to $2 billion, which likely removes that option from consideration, according to Tuesday’s discussion.

The project could carry an interstate-quality freeway. If officials choose that option, DOTD would petition the federal government to designate it part of the interstate system.

A full freeway would generate more toll revenue, Kalivoda said. But it would be more expensive and possibly more controversial because it would have a greater impact on communities and the environment.

A conventional highway would be cheaper and would better lend itself to incremental funding, he said. But that decision would not preserve the full freeway option later, which might be perceived as short-sighted by future drivers.

The new crossing is needed to alleviate traffic, promote economic development and improve the region’s quality of life, officials say.

"It’s beyond the point of necessity," said state Sen. Rick Ward, a West Baton Rouge Republican who authored the district’s enabling legislation. "It’s almost to a crisis situation."