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New bridge legislation awaiting final step

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BATON ROUGE - Five parishes are one step away from working together to build a new bridge over the Mississippi River.

Legislation to approve a five-parish taxing district is sitting on the Governor's desk. His office says he is reviewing it. If it is approved, the next step would be to see if the parish presidents are on board.

“We need to get a plan in place so we can present something to the local people,” said Sen. Rick Ward.

Ward is the sponsor of SB 496. His goal is to get East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, Iberville, Ascension and Livingston together to decide how a new bridge could be funded.

Ideally, Ward says it would be funded through a private donor that would require a toll on the new bridge. But likely, a tax will be needed in all parishes involved.

“You have potential for some amount of a sales tax, some amount of a parcel fee,” said Ward.

The money would be used to build the bridge, which costs at least $1 billion, roads leading up to the bridge and some extra expenses.

“You have to have studies done simply for traffic counts,” said Ward.

While hiring an architect and marketing the bridge will cost money, Ward ensures the money generated will stay local.

“This is going to be local dollars that have to be kept local, that cannot be swept away under the State,” explained Ward.

A vote for this could come as soon as next spring. But before then, parish presidents need to decide if they're on board.

“We gave ourselves the flexibility if, at some point, one of the parishes says they don't want to participate, we can create a sub district and continue to move forward,” said Ward.

This means, not all parishes have to be part of the potential new tax. But in order to pass it, voters in all the parishes that are involved need to approve it.

“To be quite honest from a financial standpoint, if everyone is not involved, I don't know how viable it would be,” said Ward.

WBRZ asked all five parish presidents if they would be in support of this district. West Baton Rouge, Ascension and Iberville are all in support. Livingston Parish President Layton Ricks says he wants a new bridge, but doesn't think voters will approve of a new tax. East Baton Rouge Mayor President Sharon Weston Broome says she’s looking forward to having a regional discussion on it once the legislation is signed.

If approved, the district would be called the Capital Area Road and Bridge District, comprised of seven members: all five parish presidents, or someone they appoint, and one member from DOTD and the Governor’s Office. None of the members would be paid for this additional position.

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