The $403.5-million construction of Louisiana’s John James Audubon Bridge and the $1-billion widening of the Huey P. Long Bridge are on shakier financial ground following an announcement that the state will skip a planned December bond sale. State officials hope a sale in the spring will find a more favorable economic clime.

Whit Kling, director of the State Bond Commission, said on Oct. 16 the state is canceling the December sale of $485 million in bonds because its economic advisers say no one is likely to buy them.

Funds for Huey P. Long bridge work will last until spring.
Courtesy of Louisiana TIMED Program
Funds for Huey P. Long bridge work will last until spring.

“It’s not a crisis. It’s more of a yellow light,” says Mark Lambert, spokesman for the state Dept. of Transportation and Development. “As long as we can sell bonds before May 1, 2009, we’ll be fine.”. He says DOTD has enough money to continue work on both projects through then.

“The best transportation analogy I can make is that we’re driving on the highway, and we planned to get off at this exit in December to gas up,” Lambert says. “We still have half a tank of gas, but we’ll just have to get off at the next exit. As long as we find a gas sta-tion, we’ll be all right.”

The bridges are part of a $4.9-billion TIMED (Transportation Infrastructure Model for Economic Development) Program created by the legislature in 1989. It dedicated 4%-per-gallon of the state’s 20% gasoline and special fuels tax to service the bonds. But if gas tax revenue drops, the state will have to dip into other funds.

In 2002, DOTD hired a consultant to help manage TIMED and bonded out the remainder of the program. The first $275-million bond sale was in August 2002. The effects of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 pushed projected costs to $700 million by the end of fiscal year 2006 and delayed completion dates into 2012, and possibly beyond.