Passionate debate grows over bridge tolls

New Orleans, La. - A passionate debate grows over whether to extend the tolls on the Crescent City Connection Bridge, a hot issue that voters will decide on November 6th. On Thursday morning, Mayor Mitch Landrieu and four New Orleans City Council members led a group of area leaders pushing in support of continuing the tolls. Thursday's press conference comes just one day after more than 130 businesses lined up against the tolls.

The bridge is paid for, and as of right now, the tolls are set to go away December 31st, unless voters decide to renew them for another 20 years.

The tolls generate about $22-million in revenue a year. Without that money, some say critical services such as grass cutting and bridge painting will see drastic cuts and adversely impact traffic flow. Mayor Landrieu, who was joined with the mayors of Kenner, Gretna and Westwego, raised concerns that paying for these services will end up being the responsibility of local governments.  "One of the things that neither Governor Jindal, Treasurer Kennedy, Rep. Connick have said to you, the people of the City of New Orleans, the metropolitan area of the state that they will guarantee that the funding will be in place from the state general fund to give us police protection, lights, the construction that we need", said Mayor Landrieu. He added, "And if they can't guarantee it, it is likely that we will not have it."

Toll opponents meantime, say even with tolls, the state has already failed to live up to its obligation of bridge maintenance. During a press conference on Wednesday, businesses lined up against what they call is an unfair tax on the west bank. They pointed to mismanagement of the money collected from tolls on the bridge. Opponents of the tolls say in that in 14 years, there has been no oversight of the 22 million dollars raised by the tolls and no major projects completed.

Jefferson Parish President John Young was on Fox 8 News Morning Show on Thursday, urging voters to say no to continuing the tolls. He says if the tolls are removed, the state will be required to maintain the bridge's upkeep. "They're obligated to everything, to maintain that bridge", says Young.  "They maintain every other bridge Mississippi River, and they're also going to have to do everything but lighting."

Voters in Jefferson, Orleans and Plaquemines parishes will have the final word when they head to the polls Tuesday.