The wait for a much speedier, easier entrance to Barksdale for airmen and their families is nearing an end with the state’s approval today to seek funding for a new entrance of I-20/220.

The Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget met Monday and unanimously approved the Louisiana Department of Transportation’s (DOTD) request to start the process for $600 million in Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicles (GARVEE Bonds). About $70 million of that is going to construction of a new entrance directly from I-20 and I-220 into Barksdale Air Force Base.

DOTD Secretary Dr. Shawn Wilson said the project is a priority because Barksdale has several entrances that are heavily congested with no direct interstate access, as well as railroad tracks that can be an obstacle.

“That’s not the type of environment that we should have for a military installation that matters,” he said. “Investment in this will give better access to Barksdale and will demonstrate to the military why they should spend more money to create more jobs for the people who live here.”

The approximate cost of the project is about $90 million. The local investment from the City of Bossier City and Bossier Parish is $6 million. The state and local entities will repay the debt using the federal highway funds received each year over the course of 12 years.

But the funding for the new interchange faces further review before the project gets the green light to proceed. Now it will go before the state bond commission later this month.

State Sen. Ryan Gatti (R-Bossier City) previously told the Bossier Press-Tribune that he doesn’t anticipates roadblocks for this project because of the support it has received from local leaders all the way to Gov. John Bel Edwards.

“Every congressional and state leader from our area is 100 percent behind Barksdale and this project,” Gatti said.

Previously, the funding passed the Joint Transportation Committee unanimously.

Lawmakers at the Joint Transportation Committee hearing raised concerns about how funding projects with GARVEE bonds would impact the state’s bond rating. Dr. Wilson said during an informational meeting recently that using GARVEE bonds will not hurt the bond rating because it’s a mix of federal and local money that will not impact the state budget to pay off the debt in 12 years.

“This is basically a type of bond that you will use through the highway system to leverage your federal dollars,” Dr. Wilson explained during a February meeting in Bossier City. “Every year, I get about $680 million or $700 million form the federal government. That’s the money we will be using to bond this GARVEE process out.”

The Joint Transportation Committee also approved a design-build proposal for the interchange project. The process allows the contractors to design and build simultaneously, and ultimately will save both time and money on the project.

“If we followed the normal process, it might not be until 2022 or 2023 until we get started. Under this process, it could be open by 2022 or 2023. Maybe even sooner,” Dr. Wilson revealed in his February meeting.

If all goes smoothly, the project is expected to have funding finalized by the end of 2018 and be under contract by 2019.