Infrastructure Issues Plaguing Louisiana

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Louisiana is facing an infrastructure crisis, marred by some of the most deplorable road and bridge conditions in the nation and over a billion dollars in deferred maintenance at the state’s university campuses. Yet, the state continues to waste money at an absurd level.

The state continues to waste money at an absurd level.

Only 11 percent of Transportation Trust Fund dollars are used for road and bridge projects.1 Twenty-two percent of Louisiana’s classified civil service managers manage only one employee, and the state has 19,000 outside consulting contracts. Not to mention the $830 million annually that is wasted on fraudulent Medicaid payments alone.2

It’s evident that the state’s leaders have been horrible stewards of the taxpayers’ money, and the results are hurting Louisiana in a variety of ways.

Bridges

Currently, the state has a $13 billion backlog of road and bridge improvements and an additional $16 billion list of mega-projects, including a new bridge across the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge.3

Currently, the state has a $13 billion backlog of road and bridge improvements.

Louisiana ranks 13th among all states for “structurally deficient” bridges, according to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association.4 Bridges are considered structurally deficient when one or more of its key elements, such as the deck, superstructure or substructure is graded in poor condition.

The ARTBA found 1,838 out of 13,102 (14%) bridges in Louisiana to be structurally deficient. Over 1,959 (15%) of Louisiana’s bridges are “functionally obsolete,” meaning the bridge does not meet the design standards in line with current practices. From 2005 to 2014, Louisiana has received $4.2 billion from the federal government for 3,000 bridge improvements. Since 2004, 1,224 new bridges have been constructed in Louisiana, and 66 have already undergone major reconstruction.

Roads

Twenty-six percent of Louisiana roads are in poor condition. These terrible state road conditions are costing Louisiana motorists $6.5 billion annually in vehicle operating costs, congested-related delays and traffic crashes, according to a recent report released by TRIP, a Washington-based transportation research group.5

Twenty-six percent of Louisiana roads are in poor condition.

Louisiana motorists in the state’s largest urban areas lose the most money and time to congestion annually: Baton Rouge ($2,466 and 47 hours), New Orleans ($2,171 and 45 hours), Lafayette ($2,024 and 26 hours) and Shreveport ($1,894 and 27 hours). The annual costs calculated by TRIP are in addition to the current taxes Louisiana residents already pay for infrastructure maintenance.

The Reason Foundation recently ranked Louisiana 34th for highway performance and cost-effectiveness in its annual report. The report tracks the performance of state highways systems based on eleven categories, including highway spending, pavement and bridge condition, traffic congestion and fatality rates.6

Universities

Curious about the tangible effects of cuts to the state’s higher education? Look no further than the mounting list of infrastructure issues plaguing Louisiana’s college campuses. Leaky roofs, mildew-stained ceilings, threadbare carpets, potholes and aging pipes are just a few of the signs of the current dilapidated state of Louisiana’s colleges. The state’s universities are falling apart, to the tune of $1.7 billion in deferred maintenance.

The state’s universities are falling apart, to the tune of $1.7 billion in deferred maintenance.

The LSU system alone has over $1 billion in needs, including $718 million at the Baton Rouge campus. The University of Louisiana System faces a $364 million backlog, while the Southern University System has $184 million in maintenance needs.7 At Southern University in Baton Rouge, 19 of the campus’ 140 buildings have been abandoned, and the university cannot utilize the elevators in the library because of a broken fire alarm system.8

Finding a Road and Bridge Solution

Something needs to change if Louisiana is ever going to get caught up on the billions of dollars needed to address critical road and bridge needs around the state.

Our state’s record of using the gas tax funds to cover the costs of infrastructure projects is already a failure.

Governor Edwards’ task force recommended an annual $700 million tax and fee increase for roads and bridges last December.9 Rather than curb the state’s spending habits, Edwards has insisted the best way to raise those funds is by increasing the state gas tax 23-cents per gallon. This would put the state’s gasoline tax at more than 61-cents per gallon, one of the highest gas taxes in the nation.

The problem is that our state’s record of using the gas tax funds to cover the costs of infrastructure projects is already a failure.

Louisiana increased the gas tax four-cents per gallon in 1989, to fund the Transportation Infrastructure Model for Economic Development (TIMED).10 We are still paying that four-cents per gallon today. TIMED was originally designed as a pay-as-you-go plan for 16 road and bridge projects with an initial estimated price tag of $1.4 billion. Fast-forward over a quarter of a century later and the promised projects are still not completed, while the estimated cost has risen to $5.2 billion.

To offset the deficit in TIMED funding, the state consistently siphons off millions of dollars from the remaining 16-cents per gallon state gasoline tax, which is intended to finance other transportation improvements around the state. If we can’t pay off TIMED after more than 25 years, how are the taxpayers supposed to trust the governor’s claim that their money will be better spent this time around?

There’s an expectation that this proposed gas tax will solve all of Louisiana’s road and bridge issues, but the reality is that Edwards’ proposed $700 million annually is a drop in the bucket when you consider the billions of dollars the state needs to complete critical road and bridge projects.

Footnotes:

1 http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/weather_traffic/article_076df464-8c9f-11e6-a18d-f735cb6e482a.html
2 http://thehayride.com/2016/02/johnson-three-central-questions-amid-louisianas-budget-crisis/
3 http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/politics/legislature/article_5a9d5b16-f491-11e6-8e51-6fc4f5c12de1.html
4 http://www.artba.org/state-bridge-profile-louisiana-2016/
5 http://www.tripnet.org/docs/LA_Transportation_by_the_Numbers_TRIP_Report_March_2017.pdf
6 http://reason.org/studies/show/22nd-annual-highway-report
7 http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2017/03/03/louisianas-college-campuses-crumbling/98645740/
8 http://www.nola.com/opinions/index.ssf/2016/03/the_shame_of_southern_universi.html
9 http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/politics/legislature/article_cafa0ac8-b687-11e6-8bb5-13276e52bf2a.html
10 http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/politics/article_76e910db-98d8-528a-b61a-67738791504a.html