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Tolls not enough to cover Louisiana Transportation Authority’s debts

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(The Center Square) — While toll revenues for the Louisiana Transportation Authority increased in 2023, it wasn’t enough to cover the agency’s debt, a situation that’s expected to continue in 2024.

Last week, a report released by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor examined the LTA’s financial statements for the 2022 and 2023 fiscal years, looking at how the agency that manages the Louisiana Highway 1 toll bridge has fared since Hurricane Ida in 2021.

The Category 4 hurricane damaged the bridge’s toll booth, gantry, and customer service center, forcing the authority to shut down operations from August 2021 to September 2022.

The shutdown resulted in a drastic decline in revenues, and the LTA leveraged business interruption insurance totaling $3.4 million in 2022 and $793,580 in 2023 to cover the losses.

Toll revenues increased 300% in 2023 due to resumed operations, increasing fees collected from $966,682 in 2022 to nearly $3.9 million in 2023.

“The change in net position for the year ended June 30, 2023, is $1,324,511 or 17% less than the change in net position for the year ended June 30, 2022,” auditors wrote. “These changes are primarily due to the increase in operating revenues and the related increase in net transfers in and out from 2022 to 2023.”

The report notes that the authority began collecting tolls from vehicles on the LA 1 bridge in 2010, but since 2018 has yet to collect enough revenues to repay taxpayers for debt payments fully.

“In fiscal year 2023, the actual operating revenues of $4.7 million were 24% lower than the required debt service payment,” the report read. “The toll collections in fiscal year 2023 did not provide sufficient revenues to reimburse the state in full for debt payments made on LTA’s behalf, as stipulated by the Cooperative Endeavor Agreement.

“For fiscal year 2024, LTA anticipates that collections will not fully reimburse the state,” auditors wrote.

The report shows that the state ultimately covered nearly $3.4 million in debt payments for the LTA over the last two fiscal years – about $2.15 million in 2023 and $1.23 million in 2022.

“For the year ended June 30, 2023, transfers in from the state of Louisiana and transfers out to the state of Louisiana were $6,126,631 and $3,980,451, respectively,” according to the report. “For the year ended June 30, 2022, transfers in from the state of Louisiana and transfers out to the state of Louisiana were $6,160,283 and $4,930,308, respectively.”

The Louisiana Department of Transportation awarded a contract to Plenary Infrastructure Belle Chasse to upgrade, operate and maintain the tolling system on LA-1 to Grand Isle in 2021. However, it remains to be seen how the public-private partnership will impact finances.

The agreement, awarded as an amendment to PIBC’s contract for the Belle Chasse Bridge and Tunnel Replacement Project, will hand off tolling operations to the company from the fall of 2023 through December 2046.

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