LAFAYETTE, La. (KPEL News) - A late Christmas gift was given to the efforts to fix the issue that causes so much stress and anxiety for drivers either living in or passing through Lake Charles on a daily basis - the Interstate 10 Calcasieu River Bridge. $150 million in Mega Grant funding was awarded for the funding of the I-10 Calcasieu River Bridge replacement project by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

KLFY via YouTube
KLFY via YouTube

How safe do you feel when you drive on it? Some people take a deep breath while driving across it or just take an alternative route. This "structurally deficient" bridge has been highlighted by the Biden Administration as being in need of significant repair as it handles more than 80,000 cars and trucks on it daily, according to The I-10 bridge is one of nine projects announced to receive money this year from the FY 22 MEGA Grant Awards. Louisiana received the third highest award in the nation.

"The awarding of a $150 Million Mega Grant for the I-10 Bridge from the Biden Administration moves us closer to getting the bridge constructed,” said George Swift, President and CEO of the Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance. “We especially want to thank Senator Bill Cassidy and Congressman Troy Carter for voting for the Infrastructure Investment Act (IIJA) and Governor John Bel Edwards and Louisiana DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson for pushing for this grant and the entire project.  We are excited to see a new Calcasieu Bridge coming closer to reality."

I-210 Bridge (Photo by Mike Soileau)
I-210 Bridge (Photo by Mike Soileau)

“This funding makes a new I-10 bridge and a stronger Lake Charles a reality,” said Dr. Cassidy. “I was specifically thinking of this project as I worked with others on the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill. This is just the beginning of good news for Calcasieu Parish.”

Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images
Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images

What Will A New Calcasieu Bridge Consist Of?

The I-10 Calcasieu River Bridge Project will extend from the I-10/I-210 west interchange to east of the Ryan Street exit ramp on the east side of the bridge and will reconstruct the Calcasieu River Bridge and the interstate mainline, and improve and reconfigure a segment of LA 378 (Sampson Street) from I-10 to Sulphur Avenue.

Funding for this project will replace the I-10 Bridge to increase capacity. The new bridge will be wider, with six lanes, shoulders and center barriers, a lower approach incline, increased overhead clearance, and improved interchanges.

So, How Much Closer Are We To Getting The Bridge Constructed?

The project is estimated to cost a total of $1.5 billion. So, how much is left before it is fully funded?

The possibility of tolling the bridge has been widely discussed. Louisiana DOTD Secretary Shawn Wilson mentioned it when getting the good news.

“This is really a good sign that we have a very competitive project, that we had a very well-done application that the department had been working on, and that this helps further the public subsidy needed to reduce tolls to their lowest possible rate to actually deliver this project,” said Wilson in this Louisiana Radio Network article.

But some leaders in the Lake Charles area aren't behind the idea of a toll.

“This is proof that there is yet another pocket of money that exists that shows that we do not need to toll the bridge," says Lake Charles state representative Phillip Tarver. "We just need to find those pockets of money."

"This is more evidence that we do not need a toll on the bridge,” echoed fellow Lake Charles state representative Brett Geymann as he expressed his appreciation for the help from 3rd Congressional District Congressman Clay Higgins on securing the funds.

Rep. Tarver points out how close he believes the project is to being fully funded:

We’ve allocated $1 billion of the $1.5 billion that the state has set aside already – all state money. And we had $200 million that was reduced that we could get back from the Mega Projects Fund. Now, we have taken that $500 million deficit and reduced it by $150 million with this grant and we can get the other $200 million back from the Mega Projects and only be $150 million short.”

So, according to Rep. Tarver's logic the project is currently short $350 million of the $1.5 billion needed.

Timeline For The Project

A developer is anticipated to be selected for the project by the fourth quarter of 2023, with construction to begin early 2025, weather permitting. Remember, Lake Charles has been hit hard by hurricanes over the past few years. Design and construction on this project is estimated to take 5-7 years to complete.

“Completion of a new bridge is a critical infrastructure priority for the Louisiana delegation," says Rep. Higgins. "Replacement efforts are moving forward, and this Mega Grant provides the State with significant federal funding. We are building a new bridge at I-10 in Lake Charles.”

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