State gets $80 million highway windfall from feds; Pecue Lane to benefit
Louisiana is getting $80 million in federal highway funds from other states that failed to use the dollars, including about $16 million to help build an interchange at Pecue Lane in Baton Rouge, officials said Thursday.
However, the state would have provided nearly double that amount — about $30 million — for the Pecue project if the work was further along, according to officials familiar with the issue.
That development is significant because 2018 may be the last year the state gets unused federal highway money from other states because of a lack of matching funds here.
Transportation officials face a $14 billion backlog of road and bridge needs, and a state gasoline tax that has not changed in nearly three decades.
Local officials said financial constraints have dictated progress from their end on the Pecue Lane upgrade.
The Pecue work has been talked about for about a quarter of a century.
Backers said it will improve north-south traffic, reduce interstate traffic and make it easier to get to Woman’s Hospital on Airline Highway.
Between 7,000 and 8,000 cars and trucks use the road daily in fast-growing southeast Baton Rouge.
The $16 million will be used to replace the Pecue Lane bridge that extends across Interstate 10 between Siegen Lane and Highland Road, officials said.
Another phase of the work is the creation of an interchange, called a diverging diamond. That is the work that would have gotten another $14 million from the state.
Fred Raiford, director of transportation and drainage for East Baton Rouge Parish, said Thursday the $16 million from the state will be combined with $8 million already available for the project.
“We have done everything we needed to do and complied with all the rules and regulations,” Raiford said Thursday. “And we will get additional funds.”
The project also includes widening Pecue Lane from two lanes to four lanes between Perkins Road and Airline Highway.
The interchange is seen as a way to relieve traffic on I-10, including daily backups at the Highland and Siegen exits during evening rush hours.
“That Pecue Lane (project) is vital to relieve some of the pressure off Highland Road,” said state Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, whose House district includes some of the affected areas.
The price tag for all the work is about $60 million.
Last year, the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council signed a deal that would put the city-parish on the hook for $44 million in construction costs if no other funds are found.
Also, the Pecue Lane project is in line for local assistance if Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome’s half-cent sales tax hike for roads and bridges wins voter approval in December.
The $80 million coming to the state marks the 18th consecutive year that Louisiana has gotten windfalls of varying degrees because of unused road, bridge and other transportation dollars in other states.
It is also the largest ever.
“By allocating our federal resources to fund critical projects around Louisiana, we are demonstrating how much we are able to do to improve infrastructure when these funds are available,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a statement.
“These additional funds will be put to good use very quickly, and we appreciate the federal government recognizing that Louisiana’s infrastructure is a worthwhile investment,” Edwards said.
Shawn Wilson, secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development, also praised the developments.
“In tough times like these, this $80 million is a tremendous help,” Wilson said, also in a statement. “This money will go toward critical improvements to keep people moving safely, as well as improvements to serve railroad crossings.
“The bad news is this is likely the last year the state will receive additional federal money due to a lack of funding for the additional state match."
The secretary previously has said a lack of matching dollars is one of a wide array of reasons why the state needs more road and bridge revenue. However, a bid to boost the state gasoline tax by 17 cents per gallon, which was estimated to garner $510 million per year, died in the Legislature last year with little fanfare.
Opponents said at the time their constituents were unwilling to pay higher taxes, even if they agree road and bridge work is needed.
U. S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, said the injection of federal dollars is good news.
"We have worked closely with East Baton Rouge and DOTD on the Pecue project," Graves said in a statement. "This new federal funding is another huge step among many to reduce traffic in the capital region."
Aside from dollars for Pecue Lane, the $80 million will contain funds to resurface parts of I-12, including between La. 59 and Lacombe. Improvements at six railroad crossings are also on the list, including one on U.S. 90 in Metairie and La. 64 in Gramercy.
The U.S. Department of Transportation allocates the unused money each August. States have to spend all their previous allocation during the federal fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.