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JP councilman says Causeway toll issue makes him want to change law

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METAIRIE, LA (WVUE) -

A Jefferson Parish councilmember, who is being asked to vote on funding for a massive Causeway improvement project, wants to change state law.

Chris Roberts says the council has nothing to do with day-to-day Causeway operations, and he's worried about the vote's impact.

Under current state law, for Causeway improvements to move ahead, the Jefferson Parish Council must vote on more than 100 million dollars in bonds to fund higher guardrails, and safety pull out lanes.  

That's a responsibility which Councilman at Large Roberts, now questions.

"I've asked the parish attorney's office to answer why we have to weigh in...we have no authority, we don't manage the funds," said Roberts.

Roberts worries that approving those bonds could hurt the parish's ability to fund it's own projects.

For that reason, he wants to change the law.

"I intend next year to lead the charge on rescinding that," said Roberts.

Roberts is also calling for a parish-wide vote, which the Causeway's General Manager, thinks might be a good idea.

"Public input is always good, at some point elected officials have responsibilities too, and in this instance it's all about safety," said Causeway G.M. Carlton Dufrechou.

But  one councilmember doubts that the public will have a say on increases.

"I think the discussion is valid, and worth exploring. We have asked about a public vote and we have been told it's not in our legal authority to do," said Jefferson Parish councilmember Jennifer Van Vrancken.

The group "Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany" continues to fight the toll increases. They say a vote of the people is never a bad idea, especially when it concerns toll increases that would cost some drivers hundreds of extra dollars a year.

The St Tammany Council has already voted to let the project move forward, leaving the ball in the Jefferson Parish Council's court.

"I think the JP Council will consider the matter sometime before the end of the year," said Van Vrancken.

Councilman Roberts still doesn't get it.

"This would be like the governor calling on Jefferson Parish to confirm his appointment wildlife and fisheries," said Roberts.

But he and his colleagues will likely vote 'yea' or 'nay' on approving bond financing for bridge improvements within the next two months.

Jefferson Parish councilman Ben Zahn put out a statement this afternoon, saying he too, can't support a council vote on the Causeway bonds at this time.

If the Jefferson Parish Council approves the Causeway improvement bonds by the end of the year, Causeway drivers who pay cash will see three dollar per round trip increases by May of next year. A yes vote could also mean construction of the bridge improvements may begin by the end of 2017.

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