LA 1 Project Receives Federal Help

By:  Jacob Batte, The Courier

November 22, 2013


Toll payers will save more than $30 million under a refinancing agreement for the elevated La. 1 project.

The $176 million debt-restructuring plan will allow the original toll rate schedule to remain in place after unforeseen setbacks caused toll revenue to fall below expectations, said Henri Boulet, executive director of the La. 1 Coalition.

The financial arrangement is expected to save La. 1 toll payers $34 million over the pay-off period, Boulet said.

“This is a huge win for our entire region that uses the toll bridge,” Boulet said. “I’m super pleased that the Department of Transportation is making this investment in this road that supports 18 percent of the nation’s daily energy consumption.”

Boulet said the refinancing was made possible through a provision in the federal highway bill. He credits U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., with ensuring the La. 1 project was eligible to take advantage of the benefits. The provision, passed in 2012, was designed to benefit rural road projects.

The refinancing deal will lower interest rates on loans granted from the Transportation, Infrastructure, Finance Innovative Act and on public market bonds. The majority of the federal act’s loans have an interest rate of 1.89 percent.

The project has experienced challenges in bringing in toll revenue that was expected to help pay for the 30-year, $136 million loan the state used to build the bridge.

“A lot of factors have contributed to those challenges. The nation went through a recession, then we suffered ... from the federally issued (2010 deepwater drilling moratorium). After that took effect, that shut down quite a bit of activity in the Gulf of Mexico being serviced in Port Fourchon,” Boulet said.

In 2011, Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera said that the bridge’s toll-collection system has not functioned properly since it was launched.

The Leeville bridge, which replaced an older span that often broke, is part of Phase 1 of the La. 1 Improvement Project, a plan to upgrade the sinking, two-lane highway from U.S. 90 to Port Fourchon. The four-mile bridge crosses Bayou Lafourche and is the only land route to and from the oilfield port and Grand Isle.

The toll is $2.50 for two-axle vehicles and $12 for six-axle vehicles.

Boulet said the refinancing puts the loan payment back on schedule.

“This measure is going to be able to preserve the toll-rate schedule,” he said.

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