Elmwood, La. — With tolls due to expire on the Crescent City Connection at the end of the year, Jefferson Parish leaders are demanding answers from the state.
Wednesday, council members grilled two representatives of the Department of Transportation and Department. A nagging concern is whether the span will be maintained properly if the tolls go away.
"If the Harvey Tunnel is any indication of what we can expect the bridge to look like in 10 years, then people need to realize that and we need to be frank with them," stated Council Chairman Chris Roberts in addressing the transportation department reps.
While there is proposed legislation that would put the future of the tolls before local voters this November, Jefferson Parish leaders are not taking anything for granted.
"We have the only property left in Jefferson Parish for development basis -- economic development is going to be on the West Bank," said Councilman Ricky Templet.
Another concern is the grassy areas under a portion of the West Bank Expressway leading to the CCC. If toll revenue is no longer available, then DOTD would have to trim the grass.
"If we want our grass cut more than 11 or 12 times a year, that's what we need to get the state to agree to do," said Jefferson Parish President John Young.
"I can't speak to exactly increasing it at this point. The quoted number of 11 and/or 12 on the interstate is what we normally cut during our normal operations," said Michael Stack, District Administrator of the Department of Transportation and Development.
There are proposals to provide transition funding for the bridge's operation, but no one at the council meeting was prepared to say exactly how much.
Governor Bobby Jindal was questioned about the concerns during a stop in Waggaman.
"Our budget continues to assume those tolls will go away at the end of the calendar year, and we continue to provide in our budget services through DOTD and other state agencies," Jindal said.
There are also concerns about maintaining the bridge's lighting. In 1987, the Young Leadership Council raised a half million dollars to light up the bridge. In light of the latest fears about the future, that group is launching a media campaign to try to force the state's hand.
"We really believe it is a state responsibility. The state agreed to maintain those lights in perpetuity when we put them up there," said Amy Collins, Executive Director of the YLC.
Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand also addressed the council on the issue. He said he does not have the manpower to police the bridge, and he also warned about some other possible problems. State police would take over traffic enforcement if the tolls are allowed to expire.
"I know that a particular accident on that structure, if not cleared within the first 15 minutes of the accident, will back traffic up for an hour and a half to two hours," Normand said.
"State Police may be 45 minutes away before they can free up to be able to get to the scene," added Councilman Roberts.