BUILDING BACK LOUISIANA

The Bipartisan Federal Infrastructure Bill co-authored by Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy could provide short-term and long-term benefits to regional maritime commerce and the state’s economy.

Recognizing the multi-faceted importance of domestic and international maritime commerce from an economic and national security perspective, politicians from both sides of the aisle have proposed, authored and passed legislation to directly and indirectly support Louisiana’s vital port system.

In late July 2021, the U.S. Senate passed the ‘Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’ by a convincing 69-30 margin (one senator refrained from voting). Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy was one of five lead Republication negotiators for the bill, which, if signed by President Joe Biden, would represent the largest investment in infrastructure and coastal resiliency in the history of Louisiana. 

In an op-ed Sen. Cassidy wrote for CNBC’s website on Sept. 24, 2021, he noted that analysts of the bipartisan infrastructure bill—which provides $550 billion in new funding—claim that the long-term spending on capital assets will improve economic efficiency, productivity, and the GDP without affecting inflation. 

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“This legislation will create tens of thousands of new jobs,” Sen. Cassidy said. “The new bridges and repaired highways will shorten commutes. Rural broadband will connect and give all Americans access to Telehealth, online education and other benefits. Flood mitigation, weatherization and coastal restoration will protect against flooding and lower utility bills. Improved water, sewer and drainage will revitalize communities. This bill is good for Louisiana and the United States.”

Specifically, the $1.2 trillion (total) Infrastructure Bill allocates $17.4 million for ports and waterways, such as the Port of Calcasieu, Port of Fourchon, Port of Baton Rouge, Port of New Orleans, Port of Plaquemines and the Port of South Louisiana—the largest tonnage port in the Western Hemisphere. 

Roughly one in five jobs in Louisiana is connected (directly or indirectly) to trade, much of which revolves around goods and materials that traverse through Louisiana’s intricate Port system—especially those locations situated on the Mississippi River. Employers within the various Port Districts around the state create hundreds of thousands well-paying careers that generate billions in state and local taxes. 

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Those numbers—along with several other valid data points—are the reason U.S. Rep. Troy Carter (D) from Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District has been a vocal supporter of this type of spending while the Senate bill has been debated in the House of Representatives.

To him, there’s no better way to reinvest in Louisiana, and ensure that its bounty of natural resources—such as the Mississippi River—benefit the people of this state than by funding products that keep its citizens working and businesses thriving.   

“With the Mississippi River and the people of Louisiana working at them, our ports can out-compete anyone if we give them the resources,” Rep. Carter said. “This bill starts to do what we should have been doing for a long time, give funding to those who use our infrastructure everyday, and understand their weak spots.

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Highway Bridge, Aerial View

“By providing significant resources, not a Band-Aid solution, these knowledgeable entities can get the job done for the long-term.”

Dirt-in-shovel infrastructure projects at Louisiana ports also assist the greater environmental good, as various studies have shown that transporting cargo via water leaves a substantially smaller carbon footprint than rail, road or air. Inland waterway transit is also pivotal for maintaining the nation’s food and energy supply.

“The maritime industry is critical to our economy, our culture and our way of life here in Louisiana,” Rep. Carter said. “Waterways link our communities, provide food, recreation, and many people’s income. We are intrinsically linked with the maritime ecosystem, both environmentally and politically, and it connects us with our neighbors.

“If we don’t invest in our maritime industry now, we risk falling behind and being outcompeted,” Rep. Carter continued. “We don’t have any time to lose. We need to invest now to protect our Louisiana livelihoods, ecosystems and culture for the future.”

Beyond allocating funds for port-specific infrastructure additions and improvements, the bill also reinforces the Port of South Louisiana’s multi-pronged intermodal capabilities through road, rail, airport and bridge projects, along with coastal restoration efforts and flood protection. 

Specifically, $40 billion will be set aside to reinforce Louisiana’s bridges that surveyor rate as either in “poor condition” or are “structurally deficient.” The bill calls for the construction of Interstate 14, which will run from Georgia to Texas (weaving through Alexandria and Leesville in the central portion of Louisiana) and ease congestion and strain on Interstate 10. Close to $4 billion will go toward flood mitigation assistance and fund efforts to reduce repetitive damage done to buildings insured by the National Flood Insurance Program. The majority of National Flood Insurance Program applications come from Louisiana. 

Finally, $17 billion will be given to the Army Corps of Engineers to address infrastructure priorities across the country. In Louisiana, those priorities include several dredging and relief efforts: $808 million toward dredging the Mississippi River and its tributaries,  $251 million for flood and coastal emergencies, and $109 to dredge and repair waterway damage caused by Hurricanes Laura, Delta and Zeta. 

“Our state has been through a lot, and we keep facing the same sort of issues, especially every storm season,” Rep. Carter said. “I don’t think we need to simply catch up, because then we fall behind while others are thinking ahead. I think we need to invest in our state in a way that will allow our people and communities to better weather storms—whether they are storms of natural disasters, pandemics, or economic downturns. We need to Build Back Better and that means investing in the people.”  

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