Panel seeks road money

BATON ROUGE (AP) — A special panel is about to launch a study of ways to boost state aid for Louisiana’s often-criticized road and bridge system.
The Transportation Funding Task Force, which includes legislative leaders and others, was authorized by the Legislature earlier this year and is set to hold its first public hearing on Sept. 10 in Baton Rouge.
“There is not a legislator across the state that does not have some kind of issues with getting a project done, starting a project, finishing a project,” said state Rep. Karen St. Germain, chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee and a member of the panel.
St. Germain said that, unlike previous road funding studies and bills that went nowhere, this one comes amid a widespread public outcry about road conditions.
“It is about people saying, ‘I can’t get to the doctor from here, I can’t get to the hospital from here,’ “ the Pierre Part Democrat said.
The legislation that authorized the study, House Concurrent Resolution 166, is supposed to review “all potential funding mechanisms” and file a report with the House and Senate transportation committees by Jan. 15.
The study comes at a time of both highway improvements, including in the Baton Rouge area, and a $12 billion backlog of road and bridge needs.
DOTD officials say $540 million has been spent on road and bridge upgrades since 2008 in East Baton Rouge Parish alone, mostly through surplus state dollars after hurricanes Katrina and Rita and federal stimulus dollars.
However, the Baton Rouge area is considered ground zero for motorists’ complaints, including heavy congestion on and near the Interstate 10 Mississippi River bridge.
St. Germain’s Senate counterpart, state Sen. Robert Adley says one aim of the study is “to try to get everyone to understand how serious the problem is and how far behind we are.”
Part of the problem, he said, is that few taxpayers realize how much money is diverted from the state’s Transportation Trust Fund, the key source of road and bridge aid.
Adley has complained that $60 million of state gasoline tax revenue yearly helps fund State Police at a time when the state cannot come up with at least $70 million a year for road preservation.

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