MANDEVILLE, LA (WVUE) - The Causeway Commission will increase the toll for southbound drivers in May.
Today, the Jefferson Parish Council approved the Commission's request to seek a $103 million bond to fund safety improvements, including guard rails and safety bays.
The Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany Parish, a watchdog group on the North Shore, said the request was unfounded and argued the bridge is safe enough without multi-million dollar improvements.
Charles Goodwin, the Treasurer for CCST, said one of the main improvements, the addition of safety bays, won't be significant.
"It has nothing to do with reducing accidents these will not reduce accidents if anything it gives them a place to go but it will not cause them to have fewer accidents," Goodwin said.
But Causeway General Manager Carlton Dufrechou thinks the addition of the pull-off bays brings the bridge into the 21st century.
"When it was designed shoulders weren't the standard. Today they would be, that's why we really want those segmented shoulders. We think they'll be a tremendous enhancement to the overall safety, they could more than double, almost triple emergency stopping area on the bridge," Dufrechou said.
Goodwin argues, though, that the bridge is wildly safe and any improvements would just be the commission spending money. He points to info from the Causeway itself that boasts it's 2.1 times safer than nearby interstates 10 and 12.
"We did our own study and we used the federal standards rather than the state standards and we found that the Causeway was three times safer. So if it's 2.1 or 3.0 then why in the world are we spending money that we don't have to solve a problem that you don't have," Goodwin said.
Once tolls increase, drivers with a toll tag will pay $3 per southbound trip and cash drivers will have to fork over $5 to make the trip.
"They're overdue. A dollar per ride for safety and shoulders and to have a higher railing, I don't have a problem with it," Lloyd Lacoste, who lives in Mandeville, said.
Lacoste already feels safe traveling the bridge, but said he wouldn't blame drivers who attempt an alternate route in May.
"I'll feel even safer once the tolls bring about the increased safety that's needed on the bridge, but I could certainly understand someone taking a ride through Slidell on the Twin Spans to avoid paying the tolls," Lacoste said.
Other drivers said it's all about the destination and convenience, but once the tolls peak, the Twin Spans may get more attention.
"Over time you know if I was constantly going into New Orleans that would be a way that I would explore going just because it is going to add up," Raymond Marshall, who lives in Mandeville, said.
Dufrechou said he expects the bond process to be completed by the summer and engineering work after that. He said the project would likely go out for bids this time next year and construction will likely start in spring or summer of 2018.