The Louisiana Highway 1 Bridge, rises above marshland and coastal waters on Aug. 25, 2019, in Leeville. (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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