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Louisiana legislators seek answers for transportation funding issues

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(The Center Square) — Legislators grilled Department of Transportation and Development officials Wednesday on the communication, timing and funding of their services.

The Transportation, Highways and Public Works Committee met to discuss funds allocated to DOTD districts, which are different than legislative districts.

In total, DOTD received almost $400 million in funding from the infrastructure fund and other excess funds. The nine districts were each given $7.5 million for preserving the existing system.

The 2023 Louisiana Transportation System User Survey shows preserving the existing system is what taxpayers care about. Sixty-four percent of respondents said the most important thing to do with transportation funding is maintaining what we already have. The second most important subject, with 75% of responses putting it in the top three, is improving transportation safety.

“You don’t hear people asking for a million dollar bridge, it is the potholes, it is the route they already take to and from work,” said Joe Donahue, the secretary of DOTD.

Every legislator on the committee agreed communication was a huge issue. Rep. Kellee Dickerson, R-Denham Springs, complained it took her six months to get in contact with engineers to explain the timing of a project to her.

Many representatives didn’t even know what district they were in or how their money is allocated until receiving a pamphlet that morning.

“I just want the communication. It would be that simple,” Dickerson said.

Donahue responded by saying many of the timing and communication issues are due to federal organizations. He also said the bureaucratic nature of transportation systems slows things down for the sake of making sure it’s done right.

Rep. Larry Bagley, R-Caddo, argued that isn’t always the case.

“We hear these things is the federal’s fault, but the federal says no, they said it’s not their fault, they’re ready to work,” Rep. Bagley said.

Donahue, who was appointed in June, agreed that reform efforts under his new leadership are necessary, because previous information he was given was not accurate.

“If you look at that list of projects that went out and that I went and testified to at the road shows, some of them indicated that they would be let this fiscal year, but design had not been started, the funding had not been identified for them,” Donahue said. “So it was very eye opening. The information that we had been providing to this body is not reliable.”

Donahue also said that in some cases, there’s insufficient funding to complete all of the projects on the Highway Priority Program list.

Rep. Bryan Fontenot, R-Thibodeaux, gave some ideas for solutions to a lack of financing, including work release programs for incarcerated individuals, and eliminating low-use roads that are still being maintained by taxpayers.

Fontenot also argued for a better portal to receive complaints from citizens.

Both Donahue and Fontenot agreed that an employment system with civil service protections creates a system of bureaucrats providing excuses instead of delivering results. Donahue promises change to that system. “To a large extent it’s the decisions that were made by the agency head in the past, and it is the lack of systematic process in how policy is developed and implemented,” Donahue said.

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