Causeway commuters raise myriad questions over proposed toll hike

Causeway commuters raise myriad questions over proposed toll hike

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - From bridge ticket money that goes to parishes to toll money that pays for patrols on other bridges, Causeway commuters have a lot of questions about where their toll money is going. The questions are being raised as bridge officials consider the first toll increase in 20 years.

Those questions include concerns about poorly installed reflectors on the road bed.

"Half of them are gone," said commuter Mark Albritton at a Wednesday night meeting in Mandeville.

Others wonder why the Causeway doesn't get all the money from the 14,000 tickets issued each year.

"We ought to change that," said commuter Charles Goodwin.

Of the thousands of tickets written each year on the bridge, The Causeway collects a $5 fee on each one. But the lion's share of the money, perhaps as much as $2 million a year, is split between Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes.

"Long time ago, there was a Supreme Court ruling that sent it to the parishes, because the parishes belong to the GNOEC," said Causeway General Manager Carlton Dufrechou.

As for problems with a faulty road reflector job that cost $35,000, the Causeway is now trying to make good with the contractor.

"We'd like to think he will replace. If not, litigation," said Dufrechou.

The questions arise as Causeway officials consider raising round-trip tolls by $1 to generate $130 million. That would build 12 safety pullout bays in an effort to reduce rear end collisions.

"Nobody is excited about raising tolls," said Causeway Commissioner Tony Ligi.

The bridge is already twice as safe as a comparable stretch of interstate, but bridge officials also want to raise southbound guardrails to 16 inches to prevent trucks and SUVs from flying off the bridge.

"With 14 overboard accidents since 1994, $130 million sounds like a lot of money," said commuter Matthew Isman.

Commuters also want to know why they are having to pay to patrol the Huey Long Bridge - a bridge many say they rarely use.

"I want to know why you all are on the Huey Long Bridge when State Police is twice as big as it used to be?" asked commuter Terry Willis.

Those patrols cost Causeway drivers $1.6 million a year under an arrangement approved by state lawmakers.

"I think it was the 1986 legislation, involving the refunding of the bridge," Dufrechou said.

The total price tag for all those items is about $3.5 million a year, which - even if laws were changed - Dufrechou said would be short of what's needed to make the proposed improvements. But it could help close the gap.

If $130 million in bond money is ultimately approved for the bridge work, Causeway officials hope to pay it off in 30 to 40 years. Causeway leaders will meet with the group Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany on Friday to review the proposal.

Copyright 2016 WVUE. All Rights Reserved