Law enforcement officials urge passage of CCC tolls - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Law enforcement officials tie passage of CCC tolls to public safety

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Law enforcement officials gathered under the bridge for Friday's press conference. Law enforcement officials gathered under the bridge for Friday's press conference.

New Orleans, La. -- Law enforcement officials from Orleans, Jefferson, and Plaquemines Parishes gathered under the Crescent City Connection Friday to urge voters to approve a proposition on the November 6 ballot which would keep tolls on the span from expiring at year's end.  They say it is a matter of public safety.

State government says, with or without the tolls, the patrolling of the span will fall to the State Police, come January.

That is what worries local law enforcement officials. They fear State Police will not receive the necessary funding from the state to do the job without the revenues from the tolls.

"We know that there's more that can be done with a dedicated revenue source than falling into the bowels of the state government," said Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand.

The local authorities gathered Friday said they would have to pick up the slack, costing them crimefighting resources.

"We do not want to have to take the officers out of Broadmoor and Algiers to come up to the Crescent City Connection, that's dark without lights, in the middle of the night and handle automobile accidents," said New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas.

"What the public wants more than anything else is, when they call 911, is that we're there at the door.  They don't want to hear that I'm handling an accident," said Sheriff Normand.

On Tuesday, more than 100 West Bank business leaders and some politicians held a big rally to say that the tolls must go.

"It is an unfair tax, toll on this community," said businessman Scott Burke.

Powerful business interests lined up in recent weeks in favor of extending the tolls, which generate more than $20 million a year.

Bridging Progress, a political action committee, kicked off a campaign in late October to support the tolls, including a news conference with leaders from business-oriented organizations including Greater New Orleans Inc. and the Jefferson Business Council.

A report last February from a state task force made up mostly of representatives from economic development and business associations from the New Orleans area made the case for continuing tolls.

"It is the opinion of the majority of the Task Force that elimination of the tolls will result in a reduction in the level of current services funded by tolls, elimination of the regions ability to control its own destiny as to maintenance and capital improvements, reduction in ferry service, significant dependence on limited state funding and elimination of mandated toll-funded projects," the report said. 

"The tolls provide the Greater New Orleans area with a means to provide for itself and to ensure that its quality of life is not disturbed by the needs and demands of the remainder of the state."

UNO political scientist Ed Chervenak thinks the pro-renewal side has a steep hill to climb to win passage of the proposition on election day.

"I believe it's going to be a tough sell to a skeptical audience. People have been hearing for many years that the tolls would be dedicated to construction projects and to improving the infrastructure.  But what we've seen is that most of the money has just gone to overhead and we haven't seen those improvements.  So for politicians to come out and say, 'look, we're going to try a new model and we're going to dedicate money...' I think a lot of people are just resisting that message," said Dr. Chervenak.

"And that's why we've asked the Regional Planning Commission to be the oversight," stated Normand.

Supporters of keeping the tolls say, without the millions in revenue the tolls generate, the bridge will fall into serious disrepair.  Opponents argue that's simply not the case.

"What we're getting is the same level of service the rest of the state is getting with the tolls," said State Representative Patrick Connick, who represents the West Bank.

"If there's an accident that needs to be addressed, certainly we're going to address it but it's coming to the detriment of someone else," said Normand.

The span which separates the east and west banks of Orleans and Jefferson is at the heart of a big political divide.   New Orleans Mitch Landrieu supports renewing the tolls, while Jefferson Parish President John Young does not.

Among the tolls' opponents are a grass-roots organization "Stop the Tolls," and the Bureau of Governmental Research, a New Orleans-based government watchdog.

BGR published a lengthy analysis in 2011 calling for an end to the tolls, and recommended rejection of the tolls in an Oct. 1 report on ballot issues.

"While the lack of a dedicated funding source creates as risk, it is an acceptable one," BGR said, noting that the state Department of Transportation and Development has committed to inspecting, maintaining and repairing the bridges.

 

This report includes content from the Associated Press (Copyright 2012. All rights reserved.)

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