Louisiana's status as a major gateway for both international and domestic commerce is threatened by increasing levels of traffic congestion and roads and bridges that are well below desirable standards, according to a new report by a national nonprofit transportation research group.
The Road Information Program (TRIP) report, "The Road to Economic Development in Louisiana: An Analysis of the Ability of Louisiana's System of Highways, Roads and Bridges to Facilitate Economic Growth," found that the state faces an $8.5 billion backlog in needed highway, road and bridge repairs. This funding would allow the state to prosper economically, by improving the condition of the transportation system, relieving traffic congestion and improving key highway links to efficiently deliver goods in the state.
"These days, businesses are under tremendous pressure to increase their efficiency. Good access to a well-maintained and efficient transportation system is extremely important to businesses looking to expand or relocate. Louisiana stands to lose out economically to other areas that are able to provide a less congested and better maintained transportation system," said William M. Wilkins, TRIP's executive director.
Louisiana's location and existing transportation infrastructure make it a hub for national and international good movement. Commercial trucks carry 384 million tons of products valued at $525 billion into, out of or through Louisiana each year. The volume of products carried by commercial trucks in the state is expected to increase by 105 percent by the year 2030.
The report also found that at current funding levels, road and bridge conditions and traffic congestion will worsen in Louisiana and the shipment of products into, out of and through the state will become less efficient. According to the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development's 2003 statewide transportation plan, Louisiana needs to increase its spending on roads and bridges by $250 million annually to repair roads and bridges, relieve growing traffic congestion and improve the movement of commerce in the state.
Louisiana is ranked in the bottom fifth nationally among the states in its level of investment in highways, roads and bridges. Additionally, the buying power of the state's gasoline tax--the primary source for highway funding--is anticipated to erode significantly in the future.
According to the TRIP report, Louisiana has the third-worst pavement conditions in the country, with 24 percent of major roads in poor condition. Similarly, one third of Louisiana's bridges are deficient and in need of repair or replacement. Substandard road and bridge conditions cost Louisiana motorists an additional $418 each in extra vehicle operating costs every year, due to increased vehicle repair costs, tire wear and additional fuel consumption. That's 64% higher than the national average of $255 per year in extra vehicle operating costs. In New Orleans, drivers pay $617 in additional vehicle operating costs annually, while Baton Rouge drivers pay $647.
According to the TRIP report, 29% of the state's urban highways are considered congested, up from just 20% in 1996. From 1990 to 2000, Louisiana's population increased by 6%.