By Jeremy Alford
The push by state Sen. Norby Chabert, R-Houma, this year to restructure the strategic decision-making process at the Department of Transportation and Development crossed an important threshold last week with Gov. Bobby Jindal’s signature on his cornerstone legislation.
While somewhat tamer than the original proposal to create a streamlined agency under the Louisiana Economic Development department, Chabert’s Act 719 does place the new Office of Multimodal Commerce at DOTD.
With the goal of having DOTD focus only on building roads, maintaining bridges and other transportation priorities, the commissioner of the new office would be charged with coordinating commercial trucking, ports, harbors, aviation, rail, maritime activities and intercity mass transit. By overseeing all of these functions, Chabert argues that DOTD’s focus has become too divided, which is why he advocated for a split during this year’s session.
The governor would have the authority to appoint the new commissioner and set their salary, but the overall operational change is still two years off. The bill creates a Multimodal Commerce Advisory Commission, consisting of industry representatives and state officials, to develop an operational plan for review in the 2015 regular session. Full enactment would follow in 2016.
Chabert said the office will more properly position the state to take advantage of business opportunities like the widening of the Panama Canal and increased energy exploration that DOTD is unable to focus wholeheartedly on with a massive backlog of transportation projects. The difference between commerce infrastructure and basic transportation needs must be better defined, he said, in order to support the state’s most valuable economic engines. The legislation is part of a larger national policy trend that recognizes a synergistic approach to multimodal commerce. Louisiana would be only the second state in the nation to establish such an office. Pennsylvania did so in 2013 and numerous others are in the process of doing so.