Louisiana politicians call $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill ‘a big win’ for the state

State expects billions to invest in roads, bridges and broadband access

By: and - November 10, 2021 7:00 am

The Louisiana Highway 1 Bridge, also known as the Gateway to the Gulf Expressway, rises above the marshland and coastal waters on August 25, 2019, in Leeville. Louisiana has been losing its coastal landscape at the rate of almost a football fields worth of land every hour.. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

In Louisiana, reportedly about 400,000 to 500,000 households don’t have broadband access, but the state official in charge of broadband development said he believes that’s a lowball estimate.

With Louisiana expected to receive $7.2 billion from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the funding is welcomed by Rick Allen, the mayor of Leesville in Vernon Parish — where only about 20 percent of residents have broadband access.

“In the bigger cities, they don’t have the lack of internet service like we do in rural areas,” Allen said. “So I think this is one of the areas where we will benefit more than the big cities do.”

Of $7.2 billion, roughly $4.8 billion will be earmarked for highways and $1 billion for bridges, the seventh highest amount for bridges among all states. 

The balance will go toward replacing water infrastructure like pipes and drainage, upgrading public transportation, including airports and railways, enhancing storm mitigation, restoring Louisiana’s coast, upgrading ports and waterways, expanding broadband internet access and building new energy infrastructure for clean hydrogen and carbon capture. 

The U.S. House passed the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill last week, nearly two months after the measure was approved in the Senate. President Joe Biden could sign the bill within days, according to a CNBC report.

Aside from Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who served on the bipartisan team that authored the bill, the rest of Louisiana’s congressional Republicans voted against the bill. Rep. Clay Higgins (R-Lafayette) claimed, without providing any evidence, that the bill was “9% roads and bridges and 91% socialist garbage.” 

However, the American Society of Civil Engineers performed an analysis of the legislation that shows all of the money going to hard infrastructure, and Cassidy said the bill contains no social spending. 

Passing the infrastructure bill “is a major victory for Louisiana and our country,” Cassidy said in a statement last week following the bill’s passage.

“This infrastructure bill rebuilds roads and bridges, increases access for all Americans to high-speed internet, strengthens our electrical grid, adds levy protection, coastal restoration and improves flood resiliency,” Cassidy said.

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The bill is also an investment in protecting Louisiana against natural disasters, Cassidy said. Money will be invested into the state’s energy infrastructure — some of which will be used to “strengthen the resiliency (of electrical grids) from disasters,” Cassidy’s spokesman Ty Bofferding said.

Funding will also go to the Army Corps of Engineers “which in our state goes toward flood protection,” Bofferding said. The infrastructure bill also includes funding to rebuild Louisiana’s eroded coastlines and waterways” — which “obviously is huge in buffering storm surges,” Bofferding said.

South Louisiana has been hit by several named storms and weather events over the past two years — including Hurricane Laura in 2020 and Hurricane Ida in August — among the worst hurricanes in the state’s recorded history.

Laura caused $12 billion in damage to Southwest Louisiana and shuttered 74 of the Calcasieu’s 76 public schools. Costs from damages from Ida are still being assessed.

In the weeks following Ida, thousands of Southeast Louisianians remain homeless as Louisiana House Speaker Pro Tempore Tanner Magee, R-Houma, said his constituents are sleeping in tents and makeshift structures built out of rubble in Lafourche and Terrebonne.

Gov. John Bel Edwards called the infrastructure bill’s passage “a big win for Louisiana.”

“The historic investment levels of the (infrastructure bill) provide a unique opportunity to improve and transform our state now and for generations to come,” Edwards said in a statement.

The governor’s office doesn’t yet have a list of special projects that will receive funding from the infrastructure bill.

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Although it is being touted as a $1.2 trillion spending plan, the bill actually contains only about $550 billion in new spending. The remaining $650 billion is existing infrastructure spending from trust funds, like the Highway Trust Fund, with dedicated funding that is automatically raised, such as through the gas tax, and automatically allocated toward pre-existing programs. 

These trust funds operate on an ongoing basis and would continue with or without the infrastructure bill, making it somewhat misleading to add it into the total cost of the bill, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

It will fall to state authorities to decide the particulars of which roads, bridges and other infrastructure items will receive upgrades, Bofferding said. But Cassidy did carve out some specific projects in the legislation.

Louisiana is ranked fourth in the nation for total bridge area but second in the number of structurally deficient bridges based on square footage, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

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JC Canicosa
JC Canicosa

JC Canicosa is an award-winning journalist at The Louisiana Illuminator. Canicosa has previous experience at Investigate-TV and The Loyola Maroon and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Loyola University New Orleans. At Loyola, he was the senior staff writer at The Maroon and the president of the school's chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Off the clock, Canicosa enjoys playing basketball, watching movies and dabbling in comedy writing.

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Wes Muller
Wes Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the years since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and worked on staff at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. He also taught English as an adjunct instructor at Baton Rouge Community College. Much of his journalism has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and coverage of municipal and state government. He has received recognitions including McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association, among others. Muller is a New Orleans native, a Jesuit High School alumnus, a University of New Orleans alumnus and a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his two sons and his wife, who is also a journalist.

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