New Orleans, La. -- The decorative Crescent City Connection lights have been turned back on.
Tuesday afternoon, the Regional Planning Commission voted to accept a donation from the Young Leadership Council to restore the lights which were turned off recently by the state. The YLC funds will pay for operating the lights through June 30, and then money from the CCC Transition Fund will pay to keep the lights burning for up to a year.
The lights were turned off less than two weeks ago after the state said, without the benefit of toll revenues, it could not keep the lights burning. The state Department of Transportation and Development says it is prohibited by state law to pay for decorative lighting on bridges.
The RPC also passed a resolution urging the legislature to change a 1955 law that prohibits the state from paying for ornamental lights on Louisiana bridges. The YLC paid for the lights back in 1989 and signed a contract with the state, giving the state responsibility to keep the lights burning forever. But Rhett Desselle of the Department of Transportation said when the state changed the lighting after Hurricane Katrina, the state's obligation was no longer in effect.
Some members of the RPC did not buy that argument. And New Orleans City Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson, who also is a member of the RPC, argued that the lights are critical.
"They're not decorative lighting. If any one of you would cross that bridge as much as I do, and all the women in my family do at night, you would know that it's not decorative lighting. That is additional lighting that's been very imperative to the safety of that bridge. Do you or do you not consider that the responsibility of the Department of Transportation and Development?" Clarkson asked Desselle.
"As per the statute that I quoted... that statute has been in effect since 1955. We've been following that statute... right now that's the current law and I have to follow it," Desselle replied.
RPC members said it is the state's responsibility to light the CCC bridge.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu sent a letter to the commission stating that he would only support using interim funds for the ornamental lighting if the state committed to a permanent solution.
"It is critically important basic services continue and that the iconic lighting on the bridge remains lit. In my view, we should stand together as a region to urge the State and our representatives in Baton Rouge to secure a permanent solution for the Crescent City Connection," Landrieu wrote.