09 May 2008

LA: Road chief says program bankrupt

The Advocate (Baton Rouge): Road Chief says program bankrupt
(from article)

Louisiana’s road-building agenda will suffer because a special program for 16 projects has gone bankrupt, state Transportation Secretary William Ankner said Thursday.

In addition, the state’s list of highway projects is under new pressure because gasoline tax revenue that helps pay for the work is down 7 percent, Ankner said.

The decrease in gasoline taxes stems from less driving amid higher gasoline prices, he said.

“It will probably carry forward in future years,” Ankner said of the revenue dip.

Ankner made his comments to the Joint Transportation Committee and in an interview afterward.

It all centers around a package of projects approved by voters in 1989, the Transportation Infrastructure Model for Economic Development, or TIMED. Instead of managing this themselves, LaDOTD hired an outside firm to manage these projects. (Outside management's screwed up the Road Home, too.) Now the costs have spiraled far above what they would have originally been, partially due to inflation of course, but also due to the impact on prices from hurricanes and the rising costs of steel and concrete, as well as a dearth of firms that actually do bridge work.

As a result of this, the Transportation Secretary is saying that it might take diversions of $66 million a year from the fund for other road improvements to keep the TIMED projects afloat.

Ironically, gas prices are proving to be a double whammy for the funding. Not only does the higher cost of fuel cause the prices of materials to go up, but the prices are causing people in Louisiana to buy less gas, meaning less revenue from the gas tax to go directly into funding.

The roads in the state are degrading steadily, and many have been neglected for too long. For every Future I-49, LA 1 corridor and I-10 Twin Span replacement, there's a main highway through a small town in such bad shape that the town would be better serviced by a gravel road, or a two lane highway straining to carry more cars than a six lane highway can capably handle. We need our roads fixed, plain and simple.

The money's not going to be coming in so reliably from the fuel taxes as fuel prices rise and more people buy less to conserve their own money, so there's got to be other sources of funding. Maybe instead of the Legislature voting themselves a fourfold raise for part-time work, they should put that money towards the highways. Also, Louisiana gets a good bit of money from oil development, and the high price of oil is actually a boon to the state budget. Maybe we could put some of that toward the roads, too.

Until then, we might as well get comfortable at the bottom. We'll be here a while.

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