LACOMBE, LA (WVUE) - The long path to increasing tolls on the Causeway Bridge may hit a roadblock after Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts suggested the issue go before voters in a referendum.
St. Tammany Parish Councilman Jake Groby is mirroring an idea to put the issue up for a vote.
"It makes perfect sense. What he has done is he's requested their council attorney to take a hard look at the facts surrounding the issue to see if this would qualify for a public vote," Groby said.
Already, the Causeway Commission voted to increase the tolls drivers would pay in an effort to pay for safety improvements. The commission must first secure a bond issue, seeking approval from councils on both sides of the lake, before it can make multi-million dollar improvements and increase tolls.
Rick Franzo, with the Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany, thinks adding a multi-million dollar bond is too expensive to overlook voter input.
"Citizens should have the right to vote on whether they want that kind of debt or not on a bridge that is one of the safest in the world," Franzo said.
Franzo argues that because the bridge is often boasted as one of the safest roadways in the state, the commission should fund police on the bridge instead.
"I'd rather spend $10 million and crack down, so we don't spend $300 million, we spend $10 million to put more officers on that bridge to enforce the rules," Franzo said.
Groby questions why the commission would spend more than $100 million to improve guardrails on the southbound lane, despite the small number of accidents that happen because of the outdated protection.
"Since the 1960s there's only been 15 or 16 overboard accidents," Groby said. "That's such a small percentage to have to indebt that commission so deeply and then raise the toll to pay for it."
It's not the only reason he refuses to back the bond issue. He said the amount of Causeway toll money spent on other things is a concern. He points to the $350,000 sent to neighboring parishes each year and the nearly $1.4 million spent on patrols for the Huey P. Long bridge, all mandated by state law.
"It's not the idea that they want to raise the toll so much, it's what they're spending the money on. I understand what the law says, but there's no reason they should patrol the Huey P. Long and have the taxpayers take the load for this," Groby said.
The commission argues there's no price tag when it comes to safety, and some drives agree.
"It's for safety. We need something there to prevent cars from going over, and if it means raising the price, I'd be more than willing to pay for it," said Juana Barletta, a Causeway driver.
Groby said he's seeking ways to allow his constituents to vote on the issue, and in the meantime is requesting that state legislators look over laws that divert Causeway funding away from the bridge.