METAIRIE, LA (WVUE) - Drivers who use the Causeway might soon see higher tolls.
When it opened in 1956, 50,000 drivers a year crossed the Causeway. This year, 12 million will do so, and without any emergency lanes, the man who runs the bridge is concerned.
"Sometimes doing the right thing twerks some folks. I'm sorry about that," said Causeway General Manager Carlton Dufrechou.
Causeway staff is recommending a $1 increase in daily commuter tolls to fund $103 million in improvements. Roughly $40 million would go to raising the 25-inch guardrails on the southbound side to 46 inches to keep an ever growing number of SUV and truck drivers from going off the bridge. At 25 inches tall, the current rails on the southbound side were designed for the cars of the 1950s.
"Since 1994, we have 14 vehicle overboards, and we lost 11 souls," Dufrechou said.
Only one of those overboards involved a car - the rest were pickups or SUVs. But the proposed new toll hike will apply to all vehicles.
"[We] did look at graduated tolls and congestion tolling. It boiled down to the best mix was a flat rate for everyone," Dufrechou said.
Aside from looking at higher guardrails, Causeway officials are also looking at safety bays for vehicles to pull over in an emergency. Without them, cars that break down have nowhere to go. Causeway officials say that happens up to six times a day, and though Causeway police can respond on average in five minutes, in 2015 65 of 178 accidents were rear-end collisions occurring within the first two minutes of a breakdown.
"I think it needs something else to make it safer. I don't like that it doesn't have shoulders," said driver Courtney Sylvester.
Driver Charles Mistich added, "As long as that's where the money got spent."
The push for higher tolls begins in earnest Wednesday. Causeway officials will publicly unveil the new toll proposal at a meeting at St Tammany Parish headquarters tomorrow night at 6 p.m. The Causeway Commission will meet tomorrow, but members aren't likely to vote on the plan until next month.