NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - After 12 years in the legislature, a state lawmaker who has helped commuters save thousands of dollars in tolls will soon step down.
Patrick Connick is reaching his term limit and is looking back on a career that’s helped return a lot of money to drivers’ pockets.
It seems like ancient history, but when tolls used to be collected on the Crescent City Connection bridge, delays were frequent. Longtime bridge commuter Steve Robichaux said he has not forgotten what a headache it often caused.
“When the tolls were here, the traffic would back up past Lafayette Street,” Robichaux said.
Connick, R, Marrero, was a political neophyte with a strong political name, when he began asking questions about the tolls, shortly after he was first elected back in 2007.
“That’s one of the reasons I decided to run. I live on the Westbank, the grass wasn’t being cut, we were promised projects that weren’t being built, I wanted to know why," Connick said. "Where was the money going?”
Connick said no one could give him any answers. He campaigned against a vote to renew the tolls, but the measure won. Then, he and other toll opponents challenged the election in court. They won, forcing another vote, which abolished the tolls in spite of a tough campaign to keep them in place.
Mike Sherman, FOX 8′s political analyst, said the main reason for the push to keep the tolls in place stemmed from anxiety about how else to pay for the necessary amenities.
“When this started, there was a fear of the unknown -- the ferries going away, lights going out, the maintenance not being maintained,” Sherman said.
The tolls were removed six years ago, and Connick said none of those fears pushed by toll supporters ever materialized.
“We not only have new ferries on the way, but the lights are on and it’s flowing smoother than ever,” Sherman said.
At first, Connick got very little support for legislation to do away with the tolls, until he helped win approval for an audit on how the toll money was being spent in 2008.
Connick said the audit showed that toll money was not being used to pay for improvements or maintenance. Instead he said the toll money was being used to support a 200-employee bureaucracy, which was housed in the now, nearly empty bridge office.
“Instead of spending $15 million for an up-ramp on Barataria, they were spending it on an insurance policy that wasn’t needed,” Connick said.
Though he’s leaving the House, Connick said he plans to run for the senate seat currently held by Legislative Dean John Alario, who is also approaching his term limit.
“Legislators take hundreds of votes each year," Sherman said. “But when they run, it’s a checklist of three things. But for Connick, this is one of his three.”
Commuter Ben Walker said with the tolls’ elimination, he had more cash in his pocket and more time on his hands.
“I might have saved about a thousand dollars a year,” Walker said.
Connick said he never regretted his battle.
“In my heart, I fought for the people that I represent and I feel good about that,” he said.
Connick was also instrumental recently in helping defeat a bill that would have allowed companies to use more secrecy in the amount of pollutants they are put into the air and water. He said the New Orleans area is about to lose a lot of legislative clout, with several lawmakers facing their term limit.