DOT chief Mineta signs pact for La. 1 funding at Port Fourchon ceremony
Thursday, May 19, 2005 at 12:00:00 AM
Artist's rendering of the planned elevated roadway on La. 1. New elevated roadway is on the left and the old La. 1 on the right.


BATON ROUGE – A $66 million federal-state loan agreement to rebuild a portion of La. 1, the only road leading to Port Fourchon and the barrier island of Grand Isle, was announced today (May 19) by Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco and Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Johnny B. Bradberry.

The total cost of Phase 1 of the project to create a 22.5-foot-high elevated replacement roadway between Leeville and Port Fourchon is $200 million. Revenue sources include $88 million in revenue bonds and the $66 million loan from TIFIA, or the federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act. The balance will be from DOTD state and federal highway funds.

Bidding for Phase 1 of the project, which also will replace the old bridge over Bayou Lafourche at Leeville, will be let June 29. Construction is expected to start in the fall, and the road will open to traffic in August 2008. The old bridge then will be demolished.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta signed the agreement at a press conference attended by Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco and Bradberry today at Port Fourchon.

Located on the Gulf of Mexico and connected to the rest of the state only by La. 1, Port Fourchon is one of the nation’s fastest-growing ports, supporting more than 75 percent of the Gulf’s deepwater oil production.

Noting that more than 18 percent of the entire nation’s oil and gas supply flows from this vital energy corridor, Gov. Blanco said, "This project is vital to our nation’s energy policy. It also is important to Louisiana’s economy. With the completion of the La. 1 toll road, the oil industry, residents and the businesses of Port Fourchon and Grand Isle will have reliable access that will promote development and growth."

Bradberry added, “We’re very pleased to start replacing a road that is so critical not only to the area, but to the nation’s welfare,” said Bradberry. “La. 1 is the only evacuation route for Grand Isle and Port Fourchon, and it often is submerged during storms, trapping residents and impeding service to oil and gas platforms in the Gulf.”

More than 500 residents of Grand Isle were trapped when La. 1 flooded after Hurricane Bill in June 2003. A portion of the highway also was submerged after Tropical Storm Isadore made landfall in September 2002.

Phase 1 of the project will include construction of two lanes of approximately nine miles of elevated roadway from Leeville to Port Fourchon, including a higher-level fixed crossing over Bayou Lafourche; connectors north and south of Leeville, full interchanges between the connectors and the main line, and a toll plaza at the north connector. The elevation will be roughly 22.5 feet above sea level, rising to 73 feet over the bayou.

The entire project will include 16.3 miles of elevated highway in Lafourche Parish from Golden Meadow to Port Fourchon.

Income from tolls will help repay construction loan costs, and an estimated $5 million is projected in toll receipts the first year, increasing to $24 million a year by 2028, according to DOTD Undersecretary Michael Bridges. Some 1,300 to 1,400 trucks a day on average travel the road.

“Trucks will be our primary revenue generator,” said Bridges, “accounting for approximately 50 percent of the revenue.”

The tolls will be paid one-way only in the southbound lane and cost $2.50 per car. Residents of Lafourche and Jefferson parishes whose permanent homes are south of the Leeville bridge, as identified by driver’s licenses, will pay 50 cents, and other regular commuters, $1.50.

The toll range increases for autos with boat trailers, $3.75, up to the maximum toll of $12 for vehicles with six or more axles. Tolls will rise periodically until they nearly double in 2028, except for area residents, who will continue to pay 50 cents.

TIFIA is an innovative federal financing program that helps state and local governments secure transportation funding from private sources. The goal is to advance large, capital-intensive transportation improvements that otherwise might be delayed or not built at all.

This is Louisiana’s first TIFIA loan, awarded after a two-year process that began in summer 2003, according to Bridges. The process included a presentation in December 2003, a site visit by TIFIA officials in May 2004, approval by the TIFIA Credit Council in March 2005 and an agreement obligating the funds earlier this month. Bridges added that the effort to improve the road has been in the works for at least 10 years.