Would new Mississippi River Bridge have tolls? Discussion sparking controversy among lawmakers

WILL SENTELL | Staff writer

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ proposal to spend $500 million for a new bridge across the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge sparked new controversy Tuesday in a key House committee, including arguments on whether tolls are essential to make the project reality.

Shawn Wilson, secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development, has long said that tolls need to be part of any financing blueprint to build the bridge and its connecting roads, which would cost up to $2 billion.

“It is not unusual to have tolls on an interstate,” Wilson told the powerful House Appropriations Committee during a three-hour appearance before the panel.

But Reps. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, and Aimee Freeman, D-New Orleans, voiced concerns about charging motorists to use the structure.

Geymann, who is most interested in construction of a new Interstate 10 Calcasieu River bridge in Lake Charles, told Wilson lawmakers would prefer that tolls not be placed on either bridge.

He said placing tolls on I-10 “sets a bad precedent across the entire country.”

“I don’t think the country is going to be supportive of this,” Geymann said.

The governor has proposed spending $100 million for the Lake Charles bridge.

The issue is the latest controversy over the plan, which Edwards has called a once-in-a-life opportunity to take advantage of Louisiana’s roughly $3 billion surplus because of federal pandemic aid and better-than-expected state revenue.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerome “Zee” Zeringue, R-Houma, said last week that “squirreling away” $500 million for the … Continue Reading Full Story

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