State road revenues up

By James Ronald Skains
Journal Correspondent

"The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development had revenue of $1.9 billion this year," Secretary of LA DOTD Sherri H. LaBas told the Piney Woods Journal at a Baton Rouge Press Club luncheon in mid-December. "Our revenues include $874 million from the 18.4 cents federal tax on fuel, the 16 cents per gallon state tax on fuel generates $549 million, the TIMED program contributed $115 million and motor vehicle registration fees total about $40 million."

TIMED is the acronym for Transportation Infrastructure Model for Economic Development, a major long-range highway construction improvement program created by the 1989 Louisiana Legislature.

Sherri H. LaBas has more than 28 years of service with the state of Louisiana, of which 22 years have been with LA DOTD, the last three years as Secretary of the Department. LaBas holds a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from LSU and is a member of several professional organizations. During her tenure at DOTD, she has held several high level positions with the department, including that of project manager of the I-49 North to the Arkansas state line as well as numerous projects under the TIME program.

"Currently we have 348 projects in the works which encompass over a thousand miles of highway and 53 bridges," LaBas emphasized. "Just in the last few years, we have reduced our backlog of $14 billion in needed highway construction, improvement and repairs to $12 billion."

"We are real enthused about the potential use of roundabouts in specific locations instead of traffic lights and stop signs. Too many traffic signals and stop signs will reduce a four lane highway to handling no more traffic than a two lane road can handle. We are planning one roundabout at the intersection of Highway 84 and State Highway 34 in Joyce in Winn Parish."

The LA DOTD is responsible is for maintaining 3,000 traffic signals, mowing 3.6 million acres along highway right-of-ways, maintaining 11 rest stop areas and providing ferry service in five locations in Louisiana. Louisiana has 16,000 miles of highways, 913 miles of which are interstate miles.

"The LA DOTD has entered a partnership program with State Farm Insurance to help sponsor our Motorist Assistance Patrol (MAP) program," Secretary LaBas informed those attending the Baton Rouge Press conference. "As you know, the MAP program offers roadway assistance to motorists in need. State Farm has committed to sponsor the MAP program for three years at a cost of $250,000 per year."

"The collaboration with State Farm provides supplemental funding for highly effective traffic management program. Our innovative public-private relationship furthers DOTD's efforts to reduce delay and improve traffic safety for the motoring public without requiring additional tax dollars. This sponsorship is indicative of State Farm's commitment to Louisiana motorists."

According to the LADOTD website, the MAP program provides services seven days a week from 5:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on major interstates in the Baton Rouge, Shreveport and New Orleans area. MAP trucks are often the first to arrive at traffic incidents and provide an array of services to stranded motorists. Those services include changing flat tires, providing jump starts, adding coolant and fuel.

The MAP patrols also offer cell phones and phone books for motorists' use. In addition to assisting motorists, the MAP program helps improve traffic flow and reduces traffic congestion caused by stalled vehicles. In 2012, the DOTD's MAP trucks patrolled more than 1.7 million miles in Louisiana and helped more than 55,000 motorists in need.

"The Highway 71 bridges and approaches over the Red River at Buhlow Lake in Pineville will be completed in late 2014 at a cost of about $85 million," Secretary LaBas said. "What I'm very proud of is that we have plans to for 1,000 miles of rural roads. Some of these roads have not been touched for upgrades for 30 years."

"In November of this year, we opened new portions of I-49 between LA 1 and US 71. The segment between US 71 and the Arkansas state line will be opened to local traffic in March of 2014. The LADOTD will open these sections to all traffic in the summer of 2014, once Arkansas completes their final segment."

Only five miles of the I-49 interstate system in the Shreveport area remain to be constructed. The total cost of I-49 north from I-220 is $670 million.\par }{\plain "Recently the DOTD conducted a review of our plans to develop I-49 south into the New Orleans area," Secretary LaBas pointed out. "We have concluded that we can save $3.7 billion in cost by converting the 160 miles of US 90 from Lafayette to New Orleans into an interstate quality highway."

"The results of this study offers a revised plan that not only significantly reduces the total cost of the I-49 corridor south, but the design concept can be implemented in a phased approach which is a great deal for taxpayers and provides immediate benefits to the traveling public as it is constructed. Ultimately, I-49 will directly connect Shreveport to New Orleans."

In 2005, LaBas served as a facilitator for the DOTD Change Management Program. She worked with DOTD and private industry to change and enhance the way DOTD conducted business. LaBas, in that position in the DOTD, assisted the TIMED program management of the $5 billion TIMED highway program. The $5 billion DOTD improvement included widening 536 miles of state highways to 4 lanes, widening and or new construction on 3 major bridges and improvements to both the Port of New Orleans and Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans.

"The TIMED program, which is being paid for by a four cent per gallon tax, was a huge success," Secretary LaBas stated. "We widened Highways 165, 167, 71, and 61 under the TIMED program. Also, we built the Audubon Bridge near St. Francisville and widened the Huey P. Long Bridge in New Orleans."

"The work on the Huey P. Long Bridge was a spectator sport for the people in the area, especially when the sections of the bridge were brought in barges and then raised into place.

Hundreds of people on both banks would bring their lawn chairs each day onto the levees on both sides of the bridge and watch the action."

"At our grand opening of the additional lane on each side of the bridge, we had a huge number of people who walked across the bridge including myself. There were a few people who were children in 1935 when the bridge was originally built that were able to come out for the 2012 opening."

The recent widening of the Huey P. Long Bridge took seven years and $1.2 billion to accomplish. During the political reign of Governor Huey P. Long, the bridge took less than 3 years to complete without modern day technology or equipment. The original cost of the bridge built under the overall direction of Huey P. Long was less than 2% of the cost of just widening the bridge 77 years later.