A version of this testimony was delivered to the Louisiana Joint Transportation Committee.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, for the chance to speak.
My name is Jay Derr. I’m a transportation policy analyst at the Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank that has been advising policymakers at all levels of government on transportation matters for nearly four decades. I’m also a Louisiana native, and I’ve lived here my whole life.
The Calcasieu River Bridge, designed for 50,000 vehicles per day, now carries more than 90,000, and the number of vehicles is expected to grow to 110,000 [crossings] per day as soon as 2042.
The bridge is also past its design lifespan of 50 years. Additionally, the Federal Highway Administration determined the bridge had several structural deficiencies in its substructure and superstructure that would require “maintenance and repair to remain in service and eventual rehabilitation or replacement.”
In effect, we have a bridge past its design life and overburdened at a critical point in I-10.
One promising solution is public-private partnerships, or P3s. Public-private partnerships similar to this Calcasieu River Bridge proposal have been widely used in other countries. Since 1990, there have been 1,317 public-private partnership projects in the highway sector alone.
This would not be Louisiana’s first P3 or its first P3 bridge. The Belle Chasse Bridge and Tunnel Replacement Project was the first P3 sought by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development and was approved by this committee in 2017.
This public-private partnership can bring many benefits to the state and Lake Charles area.
For workers and Lake Charles locals, most of the jobs the P3 creates would be in Louisiana. And the projected revenue would support local businesses. Payments to local subcontractors averaged 54% of the total spending in project budgets in U.S. transportation P3s.
Calcasieu Bridge Partners, the concessionaire selected for the project, has stressed its prioritization of local workforce development and planned use of Southwest Louisiana subcontractors and suppliers. Additionally, with Calcasieu Bridge Partner’s pledge to allocate 15% of the profit from the toll towards lowering local tolls, the DOTD, and the Imperial Calcasieu Area, this initiative represents a substantial investment in Southwest Louisiana.
And finally, a P3 would protect Louisiana taxpayers from the financial risks that come with megaprojects like this. For example, cost overruns would be transferred to the private sector partner instead of Louisiana taxpayers. Since 98% of megaprojects experience cost overruns and delays of up to 20 months, protecting taxpayers from bearing these costs is paramount and a crucial benefit.
Louisiana cannot afford to pay the full price of building and maintaining a $2.1 billion bridge. Financing the Calcasieu River Bridge project using a public-private partnership and funding it with tolls is the realistic delivery option that is best for Louisiana taxpayers.
I believe that this committee ought to approve the Calcasieu River Bridge proposal laid out before it today.