Louisiana has been savaging higher education for the past several years. Because of budget shortfalls and the structure of our constitution, only education and healthcare are unprotected from the budget axe. However, at a time when the national economy is so stressed, isn’t the need for workforce education and re-training ever more critical? When funds are short, wouldn’t one think that every dollar, not matter what the source, would be directed to the most crucial programs?
Not in Louisiana!
Let’s discuss one glaring example of waste. Despite the fact the Louisiana is primarily a rural state; nine bridges span the Mississippi River. One would think that would be enough. But not for the politicians in Baton Rouge.
On May 11, 2006 construction began on the John James Audubon Bridge in St. Francisville to be completed sometime in 2011. When completed this bridge will be: “the longest cable-stayed bridge in the western hemisphere”…really? What was the need?
The funding comes from the Transportation Infrastructure Model for Economic Development (TIMED) program that imposes a four cent gasoline tax in the state. Originally budgeted for $334 million, the bridge costs are now estimated to be nearly $409 million.
The real problem stems from the lack of need for such a structure. A web site discussing the project said it right: “…while neither of the two cities is large or well known…”, actually the same site described one community’s economy as based upon “extensive farming.” The other is a small, quaint town.
Just what two communities will be connected by this structure? The first is St. Francisville in West Feliciana Parish which lost 13.5 % of its population since 2000; only 1,481 lived in the city today. The other is New Roads in Pointe Coupee Parish which has a total population of only 4,997 people. The bridge will cross from a small town to a cotton field and service 6,000 people. ( “Sunshine Bridge II”)
The promoters of this project have argued that 15,000 vehicles per day can cross this new bridge. However, the area is presently serviced by a single 35 car ferry that makes 16 double crossings per day. Total cars transported each day if each trip is full to capacity…1,190 cars.
The entire population of both of these communities would have to cross the bridge three times a day to achieve the speculated traffic numbers. Does anyone believe this possible?
What makes matters worse, one can cross the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge, fifty miles to the south or in Natchez, Mississippi about fifty miles to the north if you don’t like the ferry. Was it necessary to spend $409 MILLION precious dollars to replace a ferry so 1,200 people across the river in a rural community?
This is just one more example of misplaced priorities. Those funds have been better spent on other transportation projects. Louisiana has many bridges and roads in terrible condition. But that begs an even more important point, Louisiana has to stop securing money in special “lock boxes” where funds cannot be distributed where needed.
This is the type of wasteful spending and mismanagement that drives Louisiana citizens nuts. $409 million available for higher education could do a lot to secure the economic future or our state. Instead, it is being spent on our very own “Bridge to Nowhere.”
Louisiana appears determined to continue its historical tradition of misappropriation and fiscal mismanagement. Will it ever end? Will this state ever get its priorities straight? Com’on…we can do better than this, can’t we?
by Ron Chapman