In the latest installment of Baton Rouge mayor Kip Holden’s apparently never-ending quest to raise sales taxes to build infrastructure in Louisiana’s capitol city, a controversy has broken out between Holden and at least one member of the Metro Council over the justification for his latest proposed bond issue.
At issue is Holden’s statement that East Baton Rouge Parish bridges are in desperate shape and without a bond issue to fund maintenance and improvements motorists in the city might be subject to diversions into the drink. Holden was quoted as saying that bridge work is a “key component” of his infrastructure plan, and the mayor’s administration is warning that 87 of the 300 or so bridges in the parish are endangered.
The Baton Rouge Business Report sums up the situation as Holden presents it…
Of the roughly 300 bridges the city-parish is responsible for maintaining, 87 have a 5 rating or lower on the 9-point scale, according to the city-parish Department of Public Works. A 5 rating means “potential exists for minor rehabilitation.” Additionally, 22 bridges have a 4 rating, with “marginal potential” for being rehabbed, and a dozen have a 3 rating, meaning they’re in need of immediate attention. Seventeen others are rated 2 or below.
But Holden hasn’t convinced everyone of the case for bridge work in a new bond issue.
Metro Councilman Chandler Loupe, a Republican, has objected to Holden’s presentation.
“There is no bridge crisis, and actually our deficiency ratings are below the national average,” Loupe says. “It’s a fear tactic.”
Loupe told us he reviewed the entire list of bridges with both the head of DPW, and the Parish’s second engineer, and gone over every bridge on the list. He says those bridges rated a 2 or below, meaning they need to be repaired immediately, are all closed for repairs being made now. He mentions that those repairs are being made with 2010 and 2011 money that has already been budgeted and won’t need any further expenditure.
As for the bridges with a rating of 3 and 4, Loupe says the Administration has secured Federal funds appropriated following Hurricane Gustav to make those repairs. “I requested the specifics three weeks ago via a public records request and did not receive a response,” he said. Loupe told the Business Report that Holden had some kind of “secretive list” of which bridges were being covered by federal dollars, with the implication that a bit of double-dipping might be going on as part of the sale of the bond proposal to the public.
And further, Loupe says he’s told by the Department of Public Works that the bridges with a rating of 5 have only minor – meaning, not particularly expensive – repair issues. Loupe says each bridge, if dangerous, is inspected by the State as well. And the State will immediately close a bridge failing inspection.
“Out of 300 bridges, we have 57 that need some type of repair,” he says. “The National average is over 25%, so we fall below the national average.”
Loupe also says one of Holden’s references in promoting the bridge work as part of his bond proposals won’t fly, either.
“The bridge collapse in Minnesota, according to NTSB was not a result of its rating,” says Loupe, “but rather a design defect, and an inch of ice that accumulated on it. When he compares our bridges to that bridge, its apples and oranges.”
Holden’s response to Loupe’s questioning, according to the Business Report, wasn’t very polite.
“Chandler Loupe is an absolute liar,” Holden says. “We are using recovery funds for bridges, but there’s nothing secret about them and there’s no way they can fund all of long-term needs we have.”
Loupe’s response to that rather nasty outburst from the mayor?
“I wake up every morning trying my best to be honest and truthful. I am not perfect, but I am not lying about this issue, or for that matter any other issues I research before I make a comment. I would be happy to share the lists I have, which actually show those bridges as closed, and being repaired if anyone is interested, and or cares at this point.
“Bottom line, if you cross a bridge that is open, it has been inspected by DPW and the State, and the State. Anyone that tells you different is trying to scare you into voting for something we may not need.”