It’s time to get serious about completing Interstate 49 South in Louisiana, and a public-private partnership might be part of the financial solution to the $5.2 billion effort, Treasurer John Kennedy said last week in Lafayette.

The project would upgrade 140 miles of U.S. 90 between Lafayette and New Orleans to interstate highway specifications. The final segment of I-49 running north from Shreveport to the Arkansas state line will be completed soon.

Kennedy said completion of the southern segment of I-49 is the most important pending project in the state, but there is not enough money available for it.

“The state does not have it,” he said. “Nor could we borrow it, even if we wanted to, under our constitutional debt limit. The feds have their own budget problems. That leaves one possibility: someone else.”

Kennedy said “someone else” might be the use of a P3 to finance, build, and maintain the highway. In return, the private investors would require a dedicated portion of the state’s annual capital outlay program as well as tax and toll revenue.

“We’ve been talking about it for years,” Kennedy told the Lafayette Rotary Club. “The time has come for Louisiana to put a specific framework in pace to fund its share.”

The Legislature in 2011 authorized the state to issue bonds supported by the Treasury’s unclaimed property account, and dedicate the proceeds to I-49 work.

The fund could support $150 million of bonds, with proceeds split equally between the northern and southern segments, Kennedy said, adding that the state must “put up or shut up.”

A constitutional amendment has been introduced that would raise the state’s gasoline tax by 1 cent, with the revenue dedicated to I-49 work. A second proposal would shift 1 cent of the current 20-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax to the highway project from the transportation trust fund.

The Legislature’s regular session begins March 12 and runs through June 4.

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