BELLE CHASSE, LA -- Members of Louisiana's congressional delegation announced that the state will receive $45 million from the federal government to help build a new bridge in Belle Chasse and remove the existing bridge and tunnel there.
The current structures date back at least to the 1960s. State transportation workers say that the tunnel and bridge should have been replaced years ago and this is the closest the state has come to making it happen.
"This INFRA grant is another demonstration of the innovative tools the state must utilize to improve its crumbling infrastructure," Governor Edwards said in a written statement regarding the project. "We certainly appreciate the Trump administration's attention to the state's needs..."
The plan calls for the removal of the drawbridge and tunnel to be replaced with a single 'high rise' bridge. The total cost of the project is estimated to be in the $125 million range, according to DOTD Secretary Shawn D. Wilson, Ph.D.
The state says it has as much as 60% of the money. It also has six proposals for the work. The rest of the cost will be paid for with tolls on the new bridge.
The DOTD says that a number of factors will go into selecting a final proposal, not just the price. The state will look at the type of bridge, construction timetable, and suggested toll -- among other things -- to pick a project winner. A decision could come in early 2019.
On the topic of tolls, the DOTD says certain vehicles could pay a higher toll than others while more frequent travelers could pay a reduced fee per trip. The state is calling the process a public-private partnership. All of the toll criteria would be included in whichever proposal is finally selected.
"Replacing both the bridge and tunnel is long overdue, so this grant is great news,” Senator Bill Cassidy said in his announcement regarding the $45 million.
"I'm excited that Plaquemines parish will soon benefit from this $45 million grant, and will now be able to move forward with the replacement of the Belle Chasse Tunnel and Perez Bridge, which are critical to daily commuters and hurricane evacuations," Rep. Steve Scalise said in his announcement of the money.
The DOTD says that the current bridge and tunnel require significant maintenance costs. Also, the drawbridge opens between 10 and 12 times a day and requires employees to operate the equipment.