Remarks Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
INFRA Grant Announcement: Belle Chasse Bridge and Tunnel
New Orleans, Louisiana
Wednesday, August 8, 2018
Thank you, Senator Cassidy for that introduction.
And let me thank Senator John Kennedy, and Congressman Ralph Abraham, for joining us today. You and Senator Cassidy are strong voices for investment in our nation’s transportation infrastructure.
Let me also recognize:
- Dr. Shawn Wilson, the Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, State Senate President John Alario, and State Representative Raymond Garafolo; and,
- Amos Cormier, President of Plaquemines Parish, and other members of the Parish council.
I’m so pleased to be in Louisiana to announce a $45 million “Infrastructure for Rebuilding America” or INFRA grant for the Belle Chasse [Bell Chase] bridge and tunnel replacement project. The tunnel -- which is more than 60 years old -- is leaking and crumbling. The Belle Chasse or Judge Perez vertical lift drawbridge, opens an average of 10 times a day for 7 minutes at a time. That leads to backups on Highway 23 which carries more than 33,000 vehicles a day. It also delays shipping on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. When there is a malfunction, which is not uncommon with machinery more than five decades old, the delays are a lot longer.
The old bridge and tunnel will be replaced by a fixed bridge which will allow both ships and cars to travel without interruption. Without the moving parts of a draw bridge, it will require less maintenance and fewer personnel. It will also provide, for the first time, a safe dedicated path across the waterway for bicycles and pedestrians.
These many benefits contributed to the Department of Transportation’s decision to award this grant. With $26.2 million from the national Highway Performance Program, and $12 million in Surface Transportation Program funding, the total Federal contribution amounts to $83.2 Million.
What is also significant is that these federal investments are accompanied by private sector participation. The project will be a public-private partnership – the first of its kind in Louisiana. It will provide an additional $39 million.
This important project will enhance safety, decrease travel times and improve the quality of life for the people in this area.
This project fits the Administration’s guidelines for infrastructure spending because it: 1) uses federal dollars as seed money to incentivize infrastructure investment; 2) provides for the needs of rural communities, which are far too often neglected; 3) streamlines permitting to speed up project delivery; and, 4) reduces unnecessary and overly burdensome regulations. It also empowers decision-making at the state and local level, because local officials know best the infrastructure needs of their communities.
The Department of Transportation is already applying these principles to grant programs like the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant program, and the recently announced successor to TIGER grants – the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development – or BUILD Transportation Grants.
This is important because local government is a natural partner for infrastructure. Counties own and maintain 46 percent of the nation’s public roads, 38 percent of its bridges and more than a third of its public airports. They help pay for 78 percent of the public transit systems. The Department’s role, then, is not to tell you what to do, but to be your partner, because you know best the infrastructure needs of your community.
So, let me close by congratulating you on securing total Federal DOT funding of $83.2 million, including this $45 million INFRA grant. The Department looks forward to working with you to ensure that the replacement of the Bell Chasse bridge and tunnel will be a complete a success.