ST. TAMMANY PARISH, LA (WVUE) - A St. Tammany Parish watchdog group believes drivers should get ready to reach deeper in their pockets, even before a vote is held over whether to raise tolls on the Causeway Bridge to pay for safety upgrades.
"It will go before the Commission, and the Commission is not going to say no because the governor and the Senate already approved it," Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany's Rick Franzo said.
The approval Franzo is referring to is Senate Bill 273. Lawmakers passed it and it was signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards during the last regular session. The law clears the way for the state to issue bonds to the Causeway Commission to pay for safety upgrades - upgrades that have not been approved yet and will cost drivers more than $130 million.
Causeway commissioners will decide on a possible toll increase on Aug. 10. If the toll increase is passed, toll tag costs will go up from $2 to $3, and cash-paying drivers will see an increase to $5 instead of the current $3 toll.
Franzo wants the Commission to possibly keep the tolls at their current price and push to change laws that allow toll money to be siphoned away from bridge projects used to fund other projects outside of St. Tammany and Jefferson parishes.
"They're non-elected officials, and then they have the ability to go get bonds for $130 million without your approval, without my approval. Living in St. Tammany Parish, I have a problem with that, big problem with that," Franzo said.
But Causeway Commission General Manager Carlton Dufrechou refutes Franzo's claims.
"After the time we've spent putting all this out in the media, that somebody would come up and say something like this at this point, it's totally ridiculous," Dufrechou said.
He stressed the importance of driver safety as his reasoning to get the ball rolling on the possible increase and to get the upgrades started right away.
"This is protocol. You got to go to the legislator. That's no secret either. Everything is published. Our elected officials have known about it. Both parishes have known about it," Dufrechou said. "The driver on this is safety of our commuters. Our mission is to get everybody back and forth safely and timely and that's why we're pressing this. That simple."
Franzo feels the Causeway Commission is in a hurry to put themselves into more debt because he says once the bridge's debt is paid off, the Causeway would then be controlled by the state department of transportation.