By Shawn D. Wilson, Ph.D. DOTD Secretary
Infrastructure is a critical aspect of everyday life. It supports our transportation system and stimulates economic growth for the country. At the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD), we are committed to enhancing the quality of life for our residents through our transportation systems and ensuring it’s safe.
The week of May 10, 2021 marks the beginning of United for Infrastructure: A Week to Champion America’s Infrastructure, a week dedicated to bringing transportation organizations from across the country together to advocate and provide education on the nation’s infrastructure. In order to continue preserving our existing roadways, ways of life and building new roadway systems, we must have a reliable and steady revenue stream. The state relies on a 20-cent gas tax to address infrastructure needs, which has lost more than 20 percent of its value and hasn’t changed since the 1980s.
Since I became Secretary under Governor Edwards in January 2016, more than $3.6 billion has been invested toward infrastructure projects throughout the state, totaling to 1,452 projects and nearly 5,000 miles. In Northwest Louisiana, over $337 million totaling 122 projects and more than 664 miles has been invested in the form of maintenance and new construction. Some of those projects include the US 80 lowering project in Webster Parish, the LA 532 overpass replacement near Minden, the LA 530 bridge replacement in north Caddo Parish, and multiple overlays such as on LA 529 in Bossier Parish and LA 164 in Webster Parish.
Now more than ever, we see how important it is as the state was hit with two hurricanes within six weeks of each other. Immediately after Hurricanes Laura and Delta, DOTD crews across Louisiana were out cutting trees and removing debris in an effort to open the roadways.
This fiscal year alone, we will invest an estimated $50 million in multimodal needs, which include critical projects such as the Mississippi River Deepening Project. While significant, this investment pales in comparison to the needs in our state. DOTD has demonstrated it can produce major projects across the state such as the ongoing I-220/Barksdale Air Force Base interchange improvements that are projected to be complete in Fall 2021. Without a modernized and sustainable revenue stream, new projects will be few and far between as the funding from the 1986 gas tax will be primarily used to maintain the system that is already in place.
Louisiana has four of the top five longest bridges in the United States. And there are more than 13,000 bridges in the state and more than 16,600 miles of roadway. Five Mississippi River ports carry 25 percent of U.S. waterborne commerce, 60 percent of the nation’s grain, and 20 percent of the nation’s coal. Louisiana also moves goods over nearly 3,000 miles of rail line. We should build on these resources as opposed to being limited by disinvestment.
Infrastructure matters to our country, economy, and communities, as this is the gateway to providing access to goods, services, and traveling needs. This department works hard to ensure that each vital transportation system is maintained to enhance business development and improve commuter convenience.
Infrastructure is vital to our economy, our everyday travel, and lifestyle. We often take these benefits for granted as we go about our daily lives. But, as the needs continue to grow, and the funding continues to dwindle, it’s important to take this week to realize how important and impactful infrastructure is to every day of the year.