CRISIS releases fall election platform with five priorities for addressing regional transportation challenges

Baton Rouge, La. — CRISIS, the Baton Rouge area regional business-led coalition for transportation improvements, today issued a fall election platform emphasizing the need for regional cooperation and serious, specific transportation funding solutions.

Titled “Capital Region at a Crossroads,” the platform document is directed at gubernatorial and area legislative candidates and spells out five key priorities for moving the region forward on a major issue impacting quality of life and economic growth.

Capital Region at a crossroads: CRISIS Prioritizes Regional Cooperation, Funding Solutions for Transportation Infrastructure in Fall Election Campaign

With legislative and gubernatorial elections this fall, the Baton Rouge region is at a crossroads.  On the one hand, the region in recent years has enjoyed strong economic momentum, game-changing business attraction and expansion wins, and job growth to surpass historic milestones, with more people working than ever before.

On the other hand, area businesses continue to cite transportation as an increasing concern, pointing to traffic congestion as a top obstacle for future growth.  Attracting new businesses becomes that much harder, while existing businesses struggle to push forward on expansions, and employers find it difficult to recruit talent and provide easy access for their goods and services to customers.  Employees are leaving jobs because of unreasonable, unsafe, and unpredictable commutes, while their productivity in delivering goods and services suffers because of gridlock.

Among mid-sized cities, the Capital Region ranks 3rd worst in the country for traffic congestion, and 11th worst for road conditions.  More important than the rankings are the costs, in both time and money, which these conditions exact on the region’s citizens: more than 45 hours, or a full work week, stuck in traffic per year at a cost of more than $1,200 for the average commuter, plus more than $700 per year from vehicle maintenance and repairs.  Our transportation system should be a way to provide people easy access to their jobs and sources of income, not a barrier that saps their income and puts greater job opportunities at risk.

These problems did not spring up overnight, and it is unrealistic to think that they will be solved overnight.  But whether it’s a small business owner considering opening a new location, a large business developing growth strategies, or a young family worried about the quality of life in their neighborhood – people are clamoring, at the very least, for action that will lead to clear solutions, and a comprehensive plan with a workable implementation strategy.  It would provide something they can point to as a reason for hope and a foundation for their own future plans.

Accomplishing that will take cooperation and collaboration across the region.  For years the Baton Rouge region has watched as other areas of the state have received comparably much greater infrastructure investments, particularly toward their consensus highest priority projects.  But conceivably, that has occurred precisely because they had such a consensus, while the Baton Rouge region has not.

Which brings us back to the crossroads.  One path, which is currently congested and crumbing, will only become worse, more expensive to fix over time, and a threat to future economic growth, if the status quo approach continues.  We believe, however, that the upcoming elections represent a tremendous opportunity to choose a new path, one that offers traffic relief and resiliency, and paves the way to greater regional prosperity.  Our message to candidates in the gubernatorial and area legislative races, then, is simple: Make the Baton Rouge region’s traffic crisis a top priority of your campaign, work cooperatively in support of a comprehensive regional mobility plan, and offer serious and specific funding solutions to implement it.

Assessing the Need

Louisiana has a backlog of road and bridge maintenance needs surpassing $12 billion.  Although the Baton Rouge region includes roughly 18 percent of the total state population, its share of the overall backlog, at $3.3 billion, represents more than a quarter of the total statewide need, and almost half of the state’s bridge backlog.  The Public Affairs Research Council, citing the Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD), estimates that the state would need to invest an additional $650 million per year to begin to make meaningful progress addressing these statewide needs over the next thirty years.  But even that amount would devote little toward investing in major, new capacity projects.  For those needs, based on DOTD’s most recent version of its long-range plan, Baton Rouge region “megaprojects” in the top two priority categories alone would require state investment of almost $1.3 billion.

To date, candidates have expressed a commitment to “restore trust” in the state’s Transportation Trust Fund (TTF), based on budgetary actions in recent years that redirected upwards of $100 million annually that should have been devoted to transportation infrastructure toward other general government operations, primarily state police. That commitment is commendable. However, during the recent legislative session, laws have already been put into place to phase out state police funding from the TTF and to provide for them an alternative funding source via increased vehicle title fees.

While a great start, these steps do not come close to closing the gap. Making meaningful headway on Capital Region infrastructure solutions will clearly require significantly greater levels of investment in the years ahead.

Election Priorities

The effectiveness of these investments — and, as history has shown, people’s willingness to support them — is directly tied to a clear assurance that they will be used as intended, toward clearly identified projects, with clear and quantifiable results.

The message to candidates is simple: Make the Baton Rouge region's traffic crisis a top priority of your campaign, work cooperatively in support of a comprehensive regional mobility plan, and offer serious and specific funding solutions to implement it.

With that in mind, CRISIS stands ready to work in partnership on these efforts, and is emphasizing the following priorities for gubernatorial and legislative candidates seeking election this fall:

Work cooperatively toward the creation of a comprehensive regional mobility plan

In order for the region to receive equitable infrastructure investment commensurate with its needs, the new Governor and the Capital Area legislative delegation must work cooperatively with local and regional officials to form a consensus plan which identifies regionally significant projects through a data-driven analysis determining greatest mobility improvement for the dollar.

Support multimodal strategies that give citizens greater transportation options

The region’s congestion problems are not limited to major thoroughfares but impact surface streets as well. A long-term plan must also include strategies that increase transportation options, including improved street connectivity and multimodal alternatives to automobile travel.

Push accelerated action to improve the “I-10 bottleneck”

Louisiana economist Dr. Loren Scott has characterized the corridor between LA 415, the Mississippi River Bridge, and the split as I-10’s biggest bottleneck in the country.  Congestion near the bridge impacts citizens and businesses across the state and region and will require state and regional support to address it. DOTD is currently conducting a major corridor improvement study – both the study and the construction schedule should be accelerated for completion in the next four years.

Deliver an additional major alternative route through the region

As DOTD points out, improving I-10 will provide meaningful traffic relief, but it alone cannot fix the overall congestion problem. For decades, a number of alternative routes have been proposed and studied. Again, using data-driven analysis, state and regional leaders must form consensus and deliver funding toward the best and most feasible solution for congestion relief within the next four years.

Develop comprehensive, fiscally responsible funding strategy to implement the regional plan

Just as a regional mobility plan requires a comprehensive approach, funding its components will require multiple strategies — including, if necessary, increased gas, sales, or severance taxes dedicated to specific projects — to achieve a level of investment sufficient to meet the region’s backlog and capacity needs, improve safety and quality of life, and sustain economic growth.

 

Posted on August 31, 2015 .