Lawmakers: Focus Turns to Improving State Roads

One Acadiana, the area's overarching chamber of commerce, holds six priorities as the Louisiana Legislature's annual session approaches April 10.

But much of the discussion among One Acadiana stakeholders and area lawmakers Thursday settled where the rubber meets the road — on gasoline taxes to fund state highway improvements.

State Rep. Terry Landry, D-Lafayette, said there is "no choice" but to raise the state's 20-cent tax on a gallon of gas in order to meet the demands of a $13 billion backlog of needed state road projects. How much, no one could say.

"From everything I've seen, the public is willing," Landry said, to generate money to repair and improve roads like state Highways 339, 31 and 182 and others that take 85 percent of Louisiana drivers to federal interstate highways. "I'm hoping some form of gas tax will pass."

State Sen. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, said the gas tax is the "easiest" way to get money into the Transportation Trust Fund.

Landry said the $13 billion backlog of state projects doesn't include new construction. Then, he said, the backlog grows to $16 billion.

The public must be aware, too, he said, of all the demands on transportation funding, which includes not just roads but airports and flood control.

One Acadiana President and CEO Jason El Koubi said maintaining roads and bridges and advancing Interstate 49 through Lafayette to New Orleans should be priorities that help commerce and drivers. The 20-cent gas tax, he said, was "unsustainable" because vehicles run on less gasoline — that means fewer gallons to tax — yet roads suffer additional stress with more traffic.

El Koubi cited research that shows Lafayette drivers pay more than $2,000 a year because of operating costs, crashes and congestion on overmatched roads. The study was done by TRIP, a national transportation research group, he said, and the problems are statewide.

"You can't take that $2,000 down to zero," even with better roads, El Koubi said. But if drivers saved 10 percent of that cost, it would offset the gas tax.

House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, said taxpayers must be assured that any increases in the gas tax will go to fixing infrastructure. He said it's unlikely the Legislature would pass the 23 cents per gallon that a task force has suggested, but it may pass some increase.

State Rep. Jean-Paul Coussan, R-Lafayette, was more skeptical after the meeting. He said the state must build voter trust in order to pass a gas tax.

Other One Acadiana priorities included fiscal reform, workforce development, public education, criminal justice reform and economic development.



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