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States use Hurricane Ida damage to push infrastructure bill

Elaine S. Povich, Stateline.org on

Published in News & Features

Louisiana provides a good illustration of what hardening infrastructure can do.

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which caused more than 1,800 deaths and $125 billion in damage, particularly in New Orleans and surrounding areas, the city undertook a $14 billion flood mitigation program, targeting the most affected parts of the city. In the recent storm, those portions of the city that had been addressed fared better than others where hardening of the levees and improved drainage had not been done. Other parts of the city and many parts of the state were not as fortunate.

Christina Stephens, a spokesperson for Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, said in a phone interview that New Orleans spent $14 billion on flood protection after Katrina. “This is the first time it was really tested and performed well,” she said. But she noted there is still a lot to be done, particularly in drainage, evacuation routes and utilities.

She mentioned the Interstate 10 bridge that goes through both New Orleans and Baton Rouge, where traffic was crawling as people tried to get out ahead of Ida. There were few alternative routes, she said, and new money could widen and enhance other roads.

Edwards, she said, is telling officials in Washington that “in Louisiana we have billions of dollars of unmet infrastructure. We can harden our state.”

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican, said the lessons of Katrina showed that the level of damage experienced this year in Ida “doesn’t have to be inevitable.

 

“We need to pass our infrastructure bill that improves highways and evacuation routes, strengthens our electric grid and invests in flood mitigation to protect our communities from future devastation,” he said in an email to Stateline.

And he’s not above using the recent devastation to press for U.S. House passage of the $1 trillion bill.

To House members who might find reasons to vote against it, “I say go down to Lafourche and Terrebonne … to people who will not have electricity back until September 29th and tell them you’re going to vote against a bill which hardens our grid, which gives coastal restoration dollars, which has flood mitigation, which will build levees and protect Louisiana and other states from natural disasters, go to those parishes and tell them whatever cockamamie reason you have to vote no,” Cassidy said this month on ABC’s “This Week.”

But opponents of the bill said it was too expensive and included many items not directly related to “hard” infrastructure. Louisiana’s other senator, Republican John Kennedy, said it was too costly.

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