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For Whom the Bridge Tolls

Tuesday, May 3, 2011
By Clancy DuBos

An ongoing political tug-of-war over the future of the Crescent City Connection and the tolls that drivers pay to cross it has heated up again, but a compromise resolution may be in the works. State Rep. Pat Connick, R-Marrero, has been trying to expose what he calls “a mission of self-preservation” at the bridge agency, which is part of state government. Connick’s mission has put him at odds with some of his fellow West Bank lawmakers.

Connick has once again filed a bill to abolish the current, politically appointed Crescent City Connection Division (CCCD) “oversight board” and replace it with an advisory board whose members would be nominated by business groups. Connick’s House Bill 551 also would direct the new advisory board to develop a plan for either extending or ending tolls on the bridge — and returning full oversight and management of the span to the state Department of Transportation and Development.

The current board is appointed by the governor from a slate of persons nominated by local lawmakers.

Since 2008, Connick has been trying to reform — or replace — the CCCD board, whose real purpose is to spend “excess” toll revenues on West Bank road projects. The problem, Connick says, is that CCCD managers always made sure there were never any excess toll funds. Connick says the CCCD has misspent toll money on unrelated projects and patronage — and he has a legislative audit to back up his claims.

In addition to filing HB 551 to replace the CCCD board, Connick has asked Gov. Bobby Jindal to eliminate the tolls, abolish the 32-member CCCD police force, reduce ferry operations and impose a “realistic toll” on ferries, and fully investigate CCCD finances.

Last week, the Bureau of Governmental Research (BGR) issued a report saying lawmakers should let the tolls expire at the end of 2012. BGR found that only 19 percent of the toll funds collected were used to maintain and police the bridge.

BGR has confirmed there is a better way to pay for our regional transportation needs other than with the continuation of tolls,” Connick told Gambit. “BGR must also be commended for its efforts in helping expose the mismanagement and bureaucratic waste that has permeated the CCCD for over a decade. BGR’s findings confirm that for years, CCCD’s mission was one of self-preservation.”

Connick says he is putting his bill “on hold for now” while he meets with state Sen. David Heitmeier, D-Algiers, and West Bank business leaders to devise a citizen-driven solution to the problem. Connick and Heitmeier have butted heads over this issue in past years; Connick’s reform bills cleared the House in prior years but died in the Senate. In the wake of the BGR report, Connick says, he and Heitmeier will try to forge a compromise that will resolve questions about the future of the CCCD and the tolls.

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