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State budget cuts may delay Highway 531 bridge work

The proposed transportation funding cuts by Gov. John Bel Edwards could affect projects in Webster Parish, namely the Louisiana Highway 531 bridge over Interstate 20.

The bridge is set to go out for bid in the 2018-19 cycle, but with projected cuts to the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, that could be pushed off. DOTD Secretary Dr. Shawn Wilson said the state is facing an inability to put up matching funds to get federal funds for infrastructure projects, “meaning existing funds will be drastically reduced if the state cannot provide the necessary match.”

Edwards said transportation might see a total of $216 million in cuts in the 2017-18 fiscal year. That includes $43.2 million shortfall in state matches as well.

He went on to say the state faces a growing backlog, about $13 billion in transportation projects. Edwards’ Transportation Infrastructure Task Force recommended an additional $700 million in revenue to address needs in the immediate future, most of which have been in the transportation plan for nearly 20 years, Wilson said.

As for the Highway 531 bridge, for now it is still safe for travel, he said.

“An unsafe bridge is a closed bridge,” he said. “Our crews will continue to monitor this bridge, as well as the 1,799 other state and local bridges in the seven-parish district for safety and maintenance needs,” he said. “The state has significant needs. Last year, an unprecedented number of bridges were closed, and since Jan. 1, 14 bridges have been closed.”

As for state funding for the parish’s roads, Webster Parish Police Jury Secretary Treasurer Ronda Carnahan said they don’t know how they will be affected if the proposed cuts go through as presented.

“It’s just too early to tell,” she said.

Rep. Gene Reynolds said the budget will go through several revisions before it is passed into law by the end of this session, set to begin in April. He explained the budget will go to appropriations and House ways and means committees before it ever goes to the House floor.

“Those two committees will be the ones who do the majority of the work, so we’ll have to wait and see what comes out of there,” he said.