LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - The Calcasieu River Bridge was one of the topics discussed at Wednesday night’s Lake Charles City Council meeting.
John Pohorelsky, a member of the Build Our Bridge task force, attended the meeting to answer any questions the public had about the campaign or the agreement the City Council was entering into with the Chamber SWLA and Build Our Bridge campaign.
“We do think that our efforts have brought light to the dire need for this project and has encouraged people to study the problem and come up with solutions," Pohorelsky said. “What we have asked for tonight is a donation from the city. We have asked for similar donations from the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury, the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, the Port of Lake Charles, industry across the river, and the cities of Westlake and Sulphur. Decisions are ongoing.”
He says the Police Jury has already offered $50,000 towards the campaign.
At Wednesday night’s Lake Charles City Council meeting, a cooperative endeavor agreement was passed between the city, Chamber Southwest Louisiana, and the Build our Bridge campaign.
“The purpose of the campaign is to raise money so we can pursue lobbying and marketing both at a federal and state level,” Pohorelsky said. “We are at a critical stage no because we are in the middle of a governor’s race. The governor just announced that he would pledge $85 million in the next year’s capital outlay budget to meet the president’s statement that he would build the bridge. But the issue we have is that we don’t know precisely what the president meant by stating he would build the bridge. There are a number of different ways to fund this kind of infrastructure. Historically, it was on a 90-10 split. 90% of the funding came from the federal government, 10% from the state. But President Trump’s recent statements about infrastructure flipped those numbers and would impose a 90% burden on the state and 10% coming out of the federal government. We are unsure which approach the president is talking about and all of this requires an ongoing effort on our part to stay engaged and keep the momentum going."
A major point of contention regarding a new bridge is the idea it may have a toll.
Pohorelsky, who’s been in talks with the council and mayor over the last few days, says it’s still an option but he hopes it won’t come to that.
“What we are really on board with is getting the bridge built with a minimal expense," Pohorelsky said. “Up until the governor pledged $85 million and Trump said he was going to build this bridge, and this starting two years ago, there wasn’t any money. And so the task force came up with the recommendation that involved tolling which was also the state’s proposal. But if we can get the state to maintain the pledge and actually contribute $85 million towards the replacement and our President and administration come up with the balance, there won’t be a need for a toll. That’s our first effort because since we all live here, I’m talking about the task force members, we don’t want a toll either. We were just met with a dire situation where this bridge could be taken out of service. If it is taken out of service, it will be a disaster economically and well to our quality of life here. So the idea of a toll, I wouldn’t say is a last-ditch effort, but it was a recommendation made at a time where no funding seemed available."
At Wednesday night’s meeting, the City Council only approved to enter a Cooperative Endeavor Agreement with the Chamber Southwest Louisiana and the Build Our Bridge campaign. Pohorelsky says the city plans on pledging $50,000 in the future. Pohorelsky says they will enter into Cooperative Endeavor Agreements with the Parish and City of Lake Charles separately and discussions will be held on how the funds will be used and who will oversee them at a later date.