In The News › Legislature needs to show leadership by eliminating Crescent City Connection tolls

Legislature needs to show leadership by eliminating Crescent City Connection tolls

May 8, 2012
The Times-Picayune

Wasteful spending of Crescent City Connection tolls is one of several reasons to let them expire, and a new state legislative auditor’s report provides further evidence of spending irregularities on repairing Mississippi River ferries that are subsidized by the tolls.

State lawmakers should consider that issue — and the inherent unfairness of charging only users of this bridge to cross the Mississippi River. But some legislators are trying to punt by putting the matter on the Nov. 6 ballot in Jefferson, Orleans and Plaquemines parishes.

This shouldn’t be a hard decision, though. The recent legislative auditor’s report found that 11 contracts to repair ferries, totaling $444,000, were executed after work had already started. That follows the firing last year of a bridge engineer who had approved two projects worth $630,000 without contracts and had allowed work to start on eight others prior to contracts being signed.

The new audit also found change orders to no-bid contracts that increased the amount beyond the maximum value for no-bid contracts. And when a partially submerged ferry needed $450,000 in repairs, bridge administrators failed to file an insurance claim.
While the audit didn’t find evidence of fraud, the waste is worrisome enough. Tolls have been used mainly for what the Bureau of Governmental Research has described as “far-flung’‘ services, including the three ferries. Only 19 cents of every toll dollar is actually used to maintain and police the Crescent City Connection.

Rep. Jeff Arnold of Algiers and Rep. Bryan Adams of Terrytown have offered a substitute motion that would turn House Bill 935 into a call for a vote. Rep. Arnold says that he has received just as many calls and emails urging him to keep the tolls as to allow them to expire.

But legislators need to exercise leadership. Fairness and fiscal responsibility ought to drive this decision.

Ending tolls that are inherently unfair and that have given rise to wasteful spending is the right call, and the Legislature ought to be able to make it.

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