BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on Thursday visited Lake Charles, Louisiana, to highlight federally-funded infrastructure investments that include a $150 million grant to help replace a 70-year-old bridge that’s a key route between the state and Texas.
In December, the red Deep South state received the multimillion-dollar grant to help replace the outdated Interstate 10 Calcasieu River Bridge. The bridge — which has no shoulder lanes, no lights and a steep incline — was designed for a 50-year lifespan and a capacity of 37,000 vehicles per day. Currently, around 90,000 vehicles cross the bridge.
“If you’re paying attention to American infrastructure then you know how important this bridge is to, certainly, jobs, the waterfront attractions and the quality of life here in southwest Louisiana — but also to a supply chain that impacts the entire country,” Buttigieg said with the bridge in the background.
The Democrat stressed that the bridge is also an evacuation route for Lake Charles, a city of 78,000 residents, which was pummeled by hurricanes Laura and Delta in 2020.
The bridge, whose construction began shortly after World War II, has been deemed by officials as “structurally deficient” and earned a reputation for its traffic congestion and higher than average crash rate.
“If words could build bridges we would have got this done a long time ago,” Buttigieg said. “But talk doesn’t build bridges. Funding does. Cooperation between different political parties and levels of government does.”
The total expected cost to replace the bridge and modify interchanges is $1.5 billion, Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Shawn Wilson said during Thursday’s press conference. Construction of the new infrastructure is estimated to take six to seven years.
Currently, there is $800 million in public funding for the project, including $600 million in state funds and $200 million in federal funds, Wilson said.
“A new bridge will not just be good for southwest Louisiana or just Louisiana, but for the nation as a whole,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said.
President Joe Biden visited the bridge, which he described as a “recipe for disaster,” in May 2021 to promote his proposed infrastructure plan. Six months later, Congress passed a $1 trillion infrastructure deal, allocating money for roads, bridges, ports, rail transit, safe water, the power grid, broadband internet and more.
The replacement project is among the first major grant recipients under the five-year infrastructure package. The grant is the largest Louisiana has ever received from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Edwards said.
Buttigieg also was scheduled to visit Port Arthur to highlight a $13.2 million grant to expand the size and capacity of the port and improve the efficiency of freight movement while lowering emissions.