The new Jimmie Davis Bridge is facing another delay, and could even be turned into a toll bridge.
State Sen. Barrow Peacock (R-Bossier City) received communication earlier this month that the Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) is conducting an additional environmental assessment and not moving forward on construction of a new bridge in south Bossier until 2020.
That communication also included wording that implied the state is investigating making the bridge a toll road.
This delay would be another in several. The bridge was due to begin rehabilitation in early 2015 before it was delayed to 2016 due to federally protected birds nesting under the bridge. The rehab was then abandoned last summer in favor of a completely new bridge.
The move came as a complete surprise for Senator Peacock, who has been pushing for a new Jimmie Davis Bridge in his district for years. He questioned why a second environmental assessment had to be completed.
“Never was anything relayed to me from (DOTD) Secretary (Dr. Shawn) Wilson or anyone at DOTD about another EA,” Peacock said. “I’m not happy with the delay tactics that DOTD continues to use. To go from when the new bridge was announced last year to now saying we need another EA, we continue to have excuse after excuse after excuse.”
He contacted Dr. Wilson and received an email on March 7 stating that a “supplemental EA that is currently ongoing” would probably end in September following federal reviews. Wilson added, “The timeframe for an Environmental Assessment starting from scratch is 18 months,” and under a design-bid-build process, the earliest DOTD could “let the project is Summer 2020.”
“It is very unacceptable to see how slow we are when it comes to building, when in the past our country was able to build other projects so quickly. Now we study, study and re-study,” Peacock said.
Local DOTD Public Information Officer Erin Buchanan explained that the current EA that is underway is only supplemental and should be complete in the next few months.
“Because the scope of the project changed drastically, a supplemental Environmental Assessment had to be conducted to meet the parameters of the project. However, the EA that’s currently underway is not one that had to be started from scratch. Most of the findings and significance of the original EA are applicable to the new project,” she said.
Wilson’s email said the environmental assessment may need to be amended to “include tolling the new bridge as a partial means of finance.” The tolling would electronic with a discount for toll tag users.
Although Wilson did add, “This is currently not a plan for delivering this project.”
It is something Peacock made clear he is definitely opposed to.
“Upwards of 20,000 cars cross that bridge per day. I know it’s something that is thrown out there as an alternative to finance projects, but I do not believe tolling is one that would work,” he explained. “In talking to some legislators from Texas, they said some of their (toll road) projects are not producing what they thought they would.”
Sen. Peacock went on to advise residents who are upset over the timeframe for the construction of the bridge, or have concerns regarding a toll, to contact DOTD Dist. 4 regional office or Dr. Wilson’s office in Baton Rouge.
“People who cross that bridge every day need to voice their outrage,” Peacock added. “I’ve been saying sarcastically that DOTD needs to change their name to the Department of Trails and Dreams.”