NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Causeway administrators say a Trump proposal to provide $125 million for bridge improvements won't interfere with their plan to raise tolls in four months.
A $2 billion Trump proposal promises to improve everything from the port to the locks on the Industrial Canal. For nearly 70 years, ships have had to squeeze through the narrow locks, but under the Trump infrastructure program, the old St Claude bridge and the narrow locks could become things of the past.
"Updating a lock that was approved for widening in 1956 is slow progress," said Sean Duffy with the Big River Coalition.
The Trump administration earmarked $983 million for the lock widening project. It has also earmarked $1 billion for dredging 180 miles of the Mississippi River to a depth of 50 feet from the river's mouth to Gramercy. That would accommodate larger, deep-draft ships now using the newly widened Panama Canal.
"It's a couple of years, and it depends on how funding comes, at one time or in parcels," said Duffy.
There's also something for the Causeway.
"That was unbelievably great news," said Causeway General Manager Carlton Dufrechou.
The Trump administration proposes spending $125 million in federal dollars for new guard rails and safety pullout bays, in spite of a Causeway plan to raise tolls this May to fund the same project.
We asked Dufrechou why not hold off on the toll increases until the money comes through.
"Safety," he said. "And we don't know if it will ever be funded."
Causeway officials said approval of the Trump infrastructure plan could take years. Dufrechou has been working to get federal money for the bridge for two years, and even though he said the toll increases this May will go forward, he said they can always roll back.
"It depends on the funding," he said. "If it's 100 percent, it's possible the tolls will go back down to what they are today," Dufrechou said.
Drivers had mixed views on whether the tolls should be delayed.
"I think they should make improvements now, the people who had had bodies go off that bridge wish it had been done years ago," said commuter Kliebert Bergeron.
Bergeron drives a pick up truck, which is the type of vehicle that all too often goes off the southbound span with its lower guard rails. Daneel Lockhart drives a passenger car, and those rarely go overboard.
"I think they should wait to see if the bill passes absolutely," she said.
Dufrechou said it's important to move forward and get financing in place now.
"Interest rates are at the best rate they've been in decades," he said.
And he's making it clear that if the federal money comes through, the new, higher tolls may come off.
As for dredging the river, port officials said the deeper channel has a side benefit that could help restore coastal Louisiana. They said thousands of tons of river dredge material can be placed into depleted wetlands, building hundreds of acres of new land.
Congressman and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Metairie is being given credit for helping to put the spending plan in place. He's at a retreat with President Trump right now, but sent a statement saying he "Looks forward to working with the president to achieve great things for Louisiana."