There Ought To Be A West Bank Connector, And It Ought To Be A Toll Road

From the AP today is a piece about transportation infrastructure…

Opinions vary among local and state officials whether or not a proposed “West Bank Connector” can get off the ground this legislative session.

Wilfred Barry, president of the SJB Group, a Baton Rouge design firm, is working with six parishes on a plan that would bring an “interstate-quality” highway connecting Port Allen with New Orleans on the west side of the Mississippi River.

The Advocate reports the $1.656 billion project would run through West Baton Rouge, Iberville, Ascension, St. James, St. Charles and St. John the Baptist parishes, connecting with I-310.

It also would include the construction of a new Mississippi River bridge in Iberville Parish between Plaquemine and White Castle on the west bank and just south of Baton Rouge on the east bank.

While many parish and municipal officials and state legislators are supportive of the concept of a west bank connection between Baton Rouge and New Orleans that can serve as an alternative route to I-10, they also have concerns about whether it’s a feasible project, especially considering its price tag.

And a money quote from Rep. Greg Miller…

“I support alternatives to I-10, which does not have the necessary capacity, especially during evacuations,” said state Rep. Greg Miller, R-Norco, who represents St. Charles and St. John the Baptist residents. “It is unlikely to get this project passed in this session, and finding funding for the project will be our greatest challenge.”

The fact is, there is no money for a $1.7 billion highway between Port Allen and Hahnville in the state’s capital budget. For the time being Louisiana is going to need to focus on finishing the infrastructure projects already in the plans before taking on any new ones.

But a West Bank Connector is sorely needed. Think of the truck traffic through downtown Baton Rouge which could be avoided if it could be diverted to a bridge south of town rather than straight through the heart of the city. Of course, that fraction of the truck traffic through downtown Baton Rouge which is bound for I-12 and parts east of the city, rather than for New Orleans, would need an onramp from the new South bridge to I-12, and that would mean a loop around Baton Rouge – something that seems to be more easily proposed than acted upon.

Hurricane evacuations also present a major need for another interstate-quality road connection between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

And economic development in the River Parishes along that corridor would be greatly enhanced by an interstate-quality roadway. The long-touted merger of the New Orleans and Baton Rouge markets can’t happen without a sizable amount of growth in Iberville, St. James, St. John and St. Charles Parishes, and there is more land from which to develop those parishes on the West Bank of the river than on the East Bank. But the interstate is on the east side of the river; on the west side is LA 1, which is a lousy road even for current needs.

The state’s most impressive industrial growth in the last few years has been in the petrochemical sector, and there is more land on the West Bank than the East Bank from which to continue that growth. But the lack of an interstate-quality roadway stands in the way of a new, say, gas-to-liquids plant on the west side.

What that means is there’s a market for that roadway, and it’s a market that would grow substantially as infrastructure permits.

So if you don’t have the capital outlay capacity to build it, then why not let the market handle the situation?

The Reason Foundation tackled this very subject of government infrastructure and the dead end the current model has reached, and how privatized infrastructure is a way out, earlier this month at its Las Vegas gathering. Consider the video below in light of the need for a West Bank Connector…

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