North Shore lawmaker looks to Legislature, bond commission to block Causeway improvements

Causeway toll hike opposition

METAIRIE, LA (WVUE) - The general manager of the Causeway insists that toll increases of as much as $2 a trip will begin one month from today. But a North Shore lawmaker has pre-filed a bill intended to block the $103 million project, which he said is unjustified.

For more than two years, the Causeway conducted safety tests, showing how improved guardrails would stop fatal crashes where vehicles go off the bridge.

"We lost another one last week. The bridge is not going to get safer by itself," said Causeway General Manager Carlton Dufrechou.

James Blackmond was fatally impaled by a guardrail after being rear-ended by a woman police say was drunk, and Dufrechou says a $103 million guardrail improvement project might have made a difference.

"If new rails were on the bridge when that happened, that individual would still be with us," said Dufrechou.

"I'm not positive after all this money the bridge will be any safer," said state Rep. Paul Hollis, R-Covington.

Hollis' bill could kill the project. It calls for the state bond commission to require an objective analysis of any project that costs more than $5 million.

"The bill requires them to do just like DOTD, to look at eight different factors, and if they say yes, it qualifies them to make the improvements," said Hollis.

But Causeway officials say they have studied the issue extensively, conducting lengthy tests on alternative barriers.

"This has been going on for three years. We started out internally, then we went through the state," Dufrechou said.

"What I've seen in their studies, it's not comprehensive to qualify for a $5 million expense, let alone a $103 million expense," said Hollis.

Hollis said he's convinced the people of the North Shore don't want the toll increases, despite the impassioned pleas from the Causeway GM.

"We just did a poll, and nearly 70 percent of the people don't agree that this is worthwhile," said Hollis.

Hollis said even with the recent accidents, mile for mile the bridge is already safer than most other highways. But Dufrechou said any loss of life is too much.

When we asked Dufrechou if Hollis' effort would have any impact, he replied, "No, toll increases will go in place May 6."

Hollis' bill can't stop the toll hike, but he can block the state bond commission from issuing bonds needed to fund the improvements.

"The bonds have not been sold, so there's plenty of time for us to act on this situation," said Hollis.

Though the bonds have been approved by parish councils on both sides of the lake, it must still go to the state bond commission. If the bonds for the bridge improvements are rejected by the state bond commission, Hollis would like to see the new toll money go toward retiring old bridge debt.

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