Paying a Toll to Cross the Calcasieu
Let’s talk about the I-10 bridge for a second, but without getting into the politics of everything because, let’s be honest, if you’ve been on Facebook in the past forever, you’ve probably had enough of everyone shouting their opinions at you. We're just going to run through everything we know about getting a new bridge right now, and leave the politics to angrier people who break their caps lock keys about an hour after they get a new computer.
You’ve probably heard by now that Governor Edwards went up to Washington recently to make a case for a new I-10 bridge here in Lake Charles that would take advantage of President Trump’s $200 billion infrastructure plan to build “gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways, and waterways all across our land.”
We’ll be honest. That sounds pretty awesome, and it got us excited for the first time in a long time that we might actually get a new I-10 bridge sometime before the next ice age envelops the globe and ends all life on earth. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
There’s a tiny wrinkle in Trump’s plan that changes things. That $200 billion is only intended to “spur at least $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investments with partners at the state, local, tribal, and private level.”
What does that mean?
Put simply, it means the $200 billion is just seed money, with the lion’s share of funding coming from state and local governments, along with private investors. It’s a helping hand, sort of thing - enough to get us started, but we still have to stand on our own two feet.
Which all still sounds pretty good, really. After all, state and local governments should have more control over what’s going on in their backyards, right?
Sure. But here’s the thing: Louisiana is still broke.
The helping hand from the feds is nice and all, but where will we come up with the rest of the money? Interstates are currently financed on an 80/20 split, with the feds paying 80% and states paying 20%. Trump’s plan basically flips that, requiring 80% of the funding to be provided by state and local governments or private investors, with only 20% coming from the feds.
Put another way, right now, we put in $1 for every $4 the federal government spends on a project. Under Trump’s plan, we’ll need to be the ones ponying up the $4 while the feds chip in a buck.
So how does all this relate to a new I-10 bridge?
Well, it’s pretty simple, really. We don’t have the money to build it now under the current plan, so to be able to quadruple our state and local costs under Trump’s plan means we’d have to generate some pretty serious additional funds to cover it.
Right now, that would probably involve raising the state gas tax, which would help - but it still wouldn’t be enough. Also, considering the fact that part of Trump's $200 billion plan would likely involve raising the federal gas tax to fund it, we might be able to get a new bridge, but good luck being able to afford to drive over it.
That’s not all, though. The biggest twist in this story comes with lifting a long-standing prohibition on states tolling interstates that’s been on the books since Congress established the Interstate Highway System in 1956.
Yeah, if we get a new I-10 bridge, it’s entirely likely that it would be a toll bridge.
In short, the good news is that getting a new I-10 bridge looks possible for the first time in a long time. The bad news is that it’ll probably end up costing all of us way more than we’d hoped.
How much more? Let’s break it down.
The new, six-lane bridge proposed by the state would cost an estimated $500 million. At the 80/20 state-federal split under Trump’s infrastructure plan, we would need to pay $400,000,000 of that while the feds picked up the last hundred million.
Trump reportedly endorses a 25-cent hike in the federal gas tax to fund his infrastructure plan. In addition to that, Louisiana already tried to raise the state gas tax by 17-cents in May 2017, but the proposal was abandoned when it couldn’t secure enough votes in the House. It’s likely they would seek at least that 17-cents again to help fund infrastructure projects.
If Trump’s infrastructure plan is put into effect and works as intended, then getting a new I-10 bridge would likely involve raising the gas tax by at least 42-cents overall, if not more (.25 federal / .17 state), along with additional funding coming in the form of a toll.
There are a lot of toll bridges across the country with varying costs, but the average seems to be about $5 a crossing. We have no idea what an I-10 bridge toll would cost, but it’s probably a pretty safe bet to say it’d be somewhere between $2.50 and $5.00. That means, if you cross the bridge twice each day, it'll run you either $5 or $10 every time you go to and from work.
The hard truth is that this really is the most likely way we’ll get a new bridge, even though it might be too expensive for a lot of people to afford. There's no denying that we need a new bridge, though. The existing structure has a 6.6% Sufficiency Rating and has been deemed "basically intolerable" by the National Bridge Inventory. It needs to go.
Trump's plan could help us get the new bridge we desperately need, but can we afford it?
What do you think?