Cargo Airport Plan Nears Vote in Louisiana

The Louisiana Airport Authority hopes to make a "go/no-go" decision by mid-March on the first phase of its plan to build a massive airport, cargo and manufacturing complex, said Glenda Jeansonne, the authority's executive director.

Jeansonne said she is optimistic that the feasibility and market studies will show that there is a demand for the complex, which the state authority wants to build between Donaldsonville and White Castle.

The authority has a cooperative agreement with the Canadian Commercial Corporation and its consultant, SNC-Lavalin, to invest in the project, should the studies warrant it and the state agrees to contribute the land, which would eventually grow to 25,000 acres.

Those studies originally were to be complete by this month, but Jeansonne said Wednesday that some of the studies started later than anticipated.

Supporters envision an integrated site, called the Louisiana Transportation Center, or LTC, that blends industrial plants with warehouses and long runways for cargo planes, as well as a rail terminal and port facilities.

"The preliminary market reports show that there is interest in the project. We're trying to determine the scope of the first phase, whether we need one runway or two," Jeansonne said.

Once the reports are finished, Jeansonne said board members plan to meet with Gov. Kathleen Blanco to discuss funding possibilities.

A 2004 economic impact study paid for by the Louisiana Airport Authority, or LAA, estimated that the site would create 66,000 direct jobs over the next 40 years.

The plan calls for the state to purchase the land for the project and make other infrastructure improvements, particularly in road access to the site, which is more than 10 miles from the nearest interstate over a route that has no divided highways.

The idea, which has been simmering for more than 15 years, has been viewed with suspicion by the management of Louis Armstrong International Airport and the Baton Rouge municipal airport, who are concerned that the airport may cost them cargo and eventually passenger traffic.

A number of opponents to the proposed expansion of Armstrong are on the LAA's board.

Jeansonne said she hopes to meet with Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden to discuss the possibility of linking the LTC with a long-discussed traffic bypass around Baton Rouge. That project will cost an estimated $300 million.

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