Causeway Crash has some drivers ready to pay

Causeway Crash has some drivers ready to pay

METAIRIE, LA (WVUE) - As bridge traffic was snarled for hours Monday while crews pulled a pickup truck out of Lake Pontchartrain, drivers who were near the crash said it left an impression on them.

"The railing was missing, a good part of it was missing," said Juana Barletta, who was crossing the Causeway.

Barletta watched as Cpl. Mikel Melton, a Causeway Police Officer, dove into the lake to rescue the stranded driver.

"I couldn't tell who it was, I just knew it was a male that jumped into the water, and my heart sank because I hoped whoever that is was safe and survived it," Barletta said.

The man who crashed into the lake was taken to a North Shore hospital and is expected to recover, and it wasn't long before Cpl. Melton was back in uniform.

"If it wasn't for our department, our training, we wouldn't have a clue of what to do because a lot of agencies don't get trained as well as we do, and when it comes to training and finances, that's one of the biggest things the Causeway does for us is make sure that everyone out here knows how to save a life if they go into the water," Melton said.

In fact, it wasn't Melton's first water rescue. Four years ago he dove into the lake to save another driver.

While, so-called "over-boards" are nothing new to Causeway Police, they aren't an everyday occurrence either. The majority of them happen while drivers travel southbound.

"Fourteen of the 15 [over-boards] have been on the southbound bridge. It just hits the message home that - in my opinion - this is like a hurricane. We know another one is going to come, it's just when. We've got to prepare for it. The right thing to do is to bring the bridge up to the 21st century, put the bays on it, improve the rails on the southbound bridge," said Causeway General Manager Carlton Dufrechou.

The Causeway Commission is hoping to pay for that by hiking toll fares by a dollar, but not everyone who travels the bridge thinks an immediate improvement of the southbound bridge should warrant higher tolls.

"Improvements are necessary. We always need to make our roads better and safer, but we're not at a road that's a disaster," said Rick Franzo with the Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany Parish. "If this road had people falling off it every day and being killed on a constant basis, then I'd say yeah, let's do it tomorrow. But it's not."

Still, drivers who had to witness the aftermath of the crash are more than willing to shell out the extra fee if it means a safer trip.

"It's okay, it's for safety. We need something there to prevent cars from going over and if it means raising the price to $4, I'd be more than willing to pay for it," Barletta said.

The Causeway Commission is set to vote on the toll hike in two days.

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