The Southeast Super Region Committee is supporting the Government Reform in Transportation, or GRIT Act, which includes deepening of the Mississippi River and upgrades to other infrastructure critical to industry.
A statement released Monday notes the vote took place ahead of the 2021 regular session of the Louisiana legislature. SoLA took an official stand supporting the legislation because it provides essential funding for prioritized infrastructure projects across the Super Region, increases Louisiana’s competitiveness for matching federal funds, and reflects the widespread and overwhelming support throughout the Super Region to pursue intercity rail between the Baton Rouge and New Orleans metros.
Adequately funding and prioritizing critical infrastructure projects across the Super Region has long been a focus of SoLA, comprised of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, Greater New Orleans, Inc. and the South Louisiana Economic Council (Houma/Thibodaux). SoLA’s priority transportation projects include, among others:
- Passenger rail service between Baton Rouge and New Orleans
- Deepening of the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge
- A new Mississippi River Bridge and connectors in the Baton Rouge Area
- Completion of the I-10 widening in the greater Baton Rouge Area
- Replacement of the Belle Chasse Tunnel
- Upgrades to I-49 South between Raceland and Des Allemands
- A new Florida Ave. Bridge over the Industrial Canal connecting Orleans and St. Bernard Parishes
“Not since our recovery from Hurricane Katrina have we faced such challenges,” said SoLA founder, developer and philanthropist Roger Ogden. “This time we’ll have to compete with every other region and state, so we’ve got to be ready. This bill will allow us to be prepared to draw down federal funds as they become available, while creating long-lasting economic growth for every region in our state.”
The GRIT Act, authored by State Representative Jack McFarland (R-Winnfield), reforms current use of Louisiana’s gas tax funds, creates increased taxpayer accountability through annual audits, and prioritizes transparency through a new real-time construction status map.
More specifically, the bill shifts four cents of the existing fuel tax into the voter-created construction sub-fund. This reform ensures these funds will always go to construction and will never be absorbed by growth in the Department of Transportation’s operating budget.
“This approach is the balance we need between realigning our spending and increasing our investment to get our economy moving,” said Erin Monroe Wesley, 2021 chair of SoLA and southeast vice president of government and public affairs for Cox Communications. “This effort presents a choice for our legislators: Are we going to do what it takes to make Louisiana competitive and heal from this downturn in the economy or watch as our neighbor states do what we won’t?”
The GRIT Act will focus 60 percent of revenues, including billions in federal dollars, toward preservation, including rapid enhancements to highway pavement and broken bridges. Forty percent will go toward capacity projects, building the most important projects for the future of each region in the state.
“We have a chance to turn this disaster into an opportunity. No one knows how to do that like Louisianans. This is a responsible approach to planning for our long-term big projects, while we also take care of our backlog,” said C.J. Blache, 2020 chair of SoLA and attorney with Roedel Parsons.
McFarland plans to formally release the bill in the coming month. The legislative session starts April 12.