FILE - Louisiana Transportation and Development Secretary Shawn Wilson

Transportation and Development Secretary Shawn Wilson, left, speaks about proposed surplus spending on roadwork as Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards listens in this AP file photo.

Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration’s plans to fund a $165 million Plaquemines Parish transportation project through a public-private partnership hit a snag when local officials objected to imposing tolls.

The Joint Transportation, Highways and Public Works Committee directed Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Shawn Wilson to ask if a $45 million federal grant, obtained with the assumption of a public-private partnership, still can be awarded without the toll element of the proposal.

“I have no indication that it would remain intact [without tolls],” Wilson said. “This was a toll P3, which was the president’s initiative for infrastructure.”

Under the proposed agreement with Plenary Infrastructure, parish residents using the new Belle Chasse bridge and tunnel would have paid 45 cents per trip initially, with 1 cent added per year for up to 30 years. Prices would have been higher for non-residents and commercial trucks.

Wilson has touted the public-private partnership as an innovative way to deliver projects without a higher gasoline tax, suggesting the model could be replicated elsewhere in the state, and the Trump administration favors tolls.

But elected officials who represent the area, including Plaquemines Parish President Kirk Lepine, the parish council, Rep. Chris Leopold, R-Belle Chasse, and Rep. Pat Connick, a Marrero Republican who will be the next state senator for part of Plaquemines Parish, all have expressed opposition to a new bridge with tolls.

Connick, in a statement read by committee chairman Sen. Page Cortez, noted the project was not part of a bill this year that redirected $700 million in projected revenue from the state’s BP oil spill settlement to infrastructure, even though Plaquemines Parish was “ground zero” for the spill’s impact. One speaker suggested some of the projected $500 million surplus could go toward the project.

Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, stressed that he wanted to make sure Louisiana doesn’t miss out on the federal grant entirely. If Plaquemines residents don’t want to pay tolls, he suggested, drivers in the Lake Charles or Baton Rouge area who also want a new bridge would be willing.

“You said y’all are the guinea pig,” Carter said. “I’ll take the guinea pig in Baton Rouge in a New York second.”

Staff Reporter

David Jacobs is a Baton Rouge-based award-winning journalist who has written about government, politics, business and culture in Louisiana for almost 15 years. He joined The Center Square in 2018.