State Sen. Dale Erdey, R-Livingston, often likes to allude to the three biggest demands of his constituents.
“Roads, roads and roads,” he often says.
The same comment likely applies to many of Sen. Erdey’s colleagues, both Republican and Democrat.
Discussion of roads will somehow figure into the agenda for the 2017 Legislative Session on Monday. Much of the talk will likely center around the 17-cent hike on the gasoline tax, a move state Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Shawn Wilson has deemed critical.
A $13 billion backlog on road projects will likely serve as the selling point for his requested tax hike, but it does not take much effort to prove the need for road improvements. Nearly every motorist in the state, regardless of age, endures the traffic headaches.
Many of the worst tie-ups greet motorists on interstate highways, but we’ve seen right here in Livingston Parish the headaches a traffic jam can bring along La. 447 in Walker, Range Avenue in Denham Springs or stretches of La. 16 in Watson, just to name a few busy arteries.
Even the not-so-busy arteries present challenges in the form of potholes, substandard shoulders and structurally deficient bridges.
Many residents may have seen a national news story about the collapse of a portion of Interstate 85 in Atlanta last week. It’s a blessing that Louisiana has not endured such a disaster – or at least not one since the collapse of a stretch of overpass in New Orleans in the 1990s.
A gasoline tax, as with any other tax increase, does not come with much welcome. It means a higher cost of traveling, a price some cannot bear easily.
It comes down to an obvious choice: Higher gasoline tax or further decay of roadways.
At the same time, it must pass the test of accountability, something for which the state has failed its residents far too many times. We saw it during the Jindal Administration when money geared toward highways found its way into the general fund to balance the budget.
The lack of accountability could make the hike in the gasoline tax a very tough sell to constituents. If the tax passes, constituents will need action more than promises.
Otherwise, the accountability needle will continue to hover around “empty.”