Louisiana greenlights P3s for two bridge replacements

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Louisiana plans to develop its first public-private partnership with the single consortium that responded to the state’s request for proposals to replace a tunnel and lift bridge in the Plaquemines Parish of Belle Chasse.

Plenary Group USA Concessions Ltd., the equity member in the joint venture, will negotiate final toll structures and other details of the contract to design, build, finance, operate, and maintain a replacement bridge with the Department of Transportation and Development, the Legislature’s committee on Joint Transportation, Highways and Public Works was told Thursday.

DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson said that the project, now estimated to cost $162 million, will include a 30-year maintenance and operations component after construction is completed on a fixed, four-lane bridge with a 73-foot-high vertical clearance over the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway on Louisiana Highway 23.

“We think we have very acceptable proposal,” he told the panel.

Sen. Patrick Cortez, R-Lafayette, said he attended a public hearing about the project in Belle Chasse Wednesday night where he heard “many naysayers” complain that they don’t want to pay tolls.

Cortez said nobody wants to pay a toll, but he came to the conclusion after traveling the state that tolls will be necessary to finance transportation projects, particularly those done as P3s.

A handout from the hearing shows that Plenary has proposed initial tolls of $.45 for Plaquemines Parish residents whose cars have transponders, $.90 for non-Plaquemines Parish residents with transponders, and $1.80 for autos without transponders who will be mailed bills after their license plates are photographed.

Tolls for trucks would range from $3.00 to $6.90 depending on size. All collections would be done by open road tolling where vehicles do not stop. The proposal also includes a schedule for toll rates to increase annually.

DOTD plans to use a combination of funds to pay for the concession contract, including local, state and federal revenues and grants, as well as Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle bonds and toll revenue bonds.

Wilson said work on the new bridge could begin later this year, and it could be open by 2023. The existing tunnel and bridge would be decommissioned after that.

The concessionaire, known as Plenary Infrastructure Belle Chasse LLC, includes Traylor Bros. and Massman Construction Co. as lead contractors; Huval & Associates Inc. as lead designer; and Plenary Group USA Concessions Ltd. and Kapsch TrafficCom USA Inc. as toll operators.

On Thursday, the Senate Committee on Transportation, Highways and Public Works greenlighted the DOTD to continue work on replacing the Interstate 10 bridge over the Calcasieu River at Lake Charles using a P3.

The southwest Louisiana span is a little more than a mile long and is a critical link in the I-10 corridor that stretches from Santa Monica, California to Jacksonville, Florida. It opened in 1952.

Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Lake Charles, told the committee that the bridge was built for a capacity of about 37,000 vehicles per day, and sees close to 90,000 vehicles today. The bridge is so important to shipping and other vehicles, Johns said that if it was ever ruled unsafe, “this whole state shuts down.”

The committee approved a resolution ordering the DOTD to expedite work on the replacement bridge in Calcasieu Parish, which includes completing an environmental impact statement required by the National Environmental Policy Act because federal funds will be used as part of the financing. No cost estimate was discussed.

Louisiana has designated about five major transportation projects to be done as P3s in part because state funds are scarce. The Republican-led Legislature has rejected attempts to increase state fuel taxes in each of the past few years.

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Public-private partnership Transportation industry Toll revenue bonds Garvee bonds State of Louisiana Louisiana