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Voters to decide toll renewal Saturday

New Orleans, La. — For almost two months drivers, have whizzed through the Crescent City Connection toll plaza without having to pay.

This Saturday, voters from Orleans, Jefferson and Plaquemines Parishes will decide whether they want to keep the span toll-free.

"How many of you, once you pay off your house, would want to pay it again for another 30 years? Well, if you vote for these tolls, you're going to be paying another 20 years," said Jefferson Parish President John Young, a staunch opponent of renewing the tolls.

Supporters of renewing the tolls say the more-than-$20 million generated by the tolls annually is needed to ensure proper maintenance of the bridge. They also fear grass cutting under the West Bank Expressway leading to the bridge will be shortchanged without the toll funds.

But the group Stop the Tolls rallied on the west bank of Jefferson Parish Thursday in hopes of revving up opponents as election day approaches.

They say, since a judge suspended the tolls in early March, more than $3.5 million has been saved by motorists. And some west bank business owners say they have seen an increase in customers in the short time the tolls have been suspended.

"Since the tolls have ceased on the Crescent City Connection I've had more customers in my store who tell me they're from uptown or from the Warehouse District," said Shannon Ockman, owner of the Bayou Sports Shop in Terrytown.

Only 36 votes separated the yeas from the nays in renewing the tolls last fall, so opponents filed suit and a judge nullified the election results, suspended the collection of tolls, and set a new election for May 4.

"This is a tremendous economic engine," said Glen Orgeron of the CCC. He supports renewing the tolls for another 20 years.

Supporters argue that with the state's fiscal problems, a dedicated source of revenue such as the tolls is needed for the bridge stretched across the Mississippi River at New Orleans.  "And we won't have to go to Baton Rouge every year with our hat in hand asking, 'Can you fund this, can you fund that?" said Orgeron.

"The state is under federal mandates to maintain this bridge," said Young.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand are among those supporting the toll renewal.

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