In The News › Vote ‘no’ on extending Crescent City Connection tolls: Jim Tucker

Vote ‘no’ on extending Crescent City Connection tolls: Jim Tucker

By Jim Tucker
Contributing Op-Ed Columnist

The Jefferson Parish Council should be thanked for clarifying what will happen if the Crescent City Connection bridge tolls are removed. At a public meeting in August, Louisiana Secretary of Transportation Sherry Lebas said that regardless of the toll vote, under the legislation passed this past session, ferry service will continue.

In the bill, ferry service was uncoupled from its traditional funding source: tolls. It is clear that no matter what happens on Election Day, the ferries will continue to run.

State Police Chief Mike Edmonston stood up and said that no matter how the vote turns out, state police will ensure that there will be no disruption of police service on the bridge. In fact, State Police have already taken over and some would say service has improved.

Secretary Lebas said that maintenance of the bridge would fall into the normal rotation schedule for the department — painting, trash pickup, grass cutting, etc. Does anyone believe the Crescent City Connection Division is doing more than the normal now? In fact, when later pressed on the grass-cutting cycle, the secretary said the division only does the normal rotation now. So it is a fallacy to believe they are going to start doing more later. By the way, you already pay for these services through the 20 cents per gallon gas tax you pay at the pump. Why should bridge users pay twice?

This leaves the cost of the lighting the bridge as the last argument for tolls. Bridge lighting is paid by local government everywhere else in the state. That has some of our local officials crying foul. But is it really worth $22 million in tolls annually to pay the $600,000 light bill? Is that smart? I don’t think so.

Economists will tell you that an impairment to commerce reduces commerce. The West Bank economy has long felt this truism relating to tolls. I believe that if tolls are removed, property values on the West Bank will rise, possibly significantly. It is not so much the cost of crossing the bridge, but the mental hurdle of having “to pay” to go somewhere, that keeps many east bankers from moving crto the West Bank. As West Bank property values have struggled post-Katrina, I believe elimination of tolls would give the West Bank a much needed economic shot in the arm.

Finally there is the fairness issue. Why should we be the only ones that pay a toll? In 1992, the deal was to have tolls provide additional backing to pay for the construction bonds and provide revenues for policing. Tolls mushroomed into the bureaucracy most have come to disregard. The bonds are now paid off. Why should commuters continue to bear this burden? It’s not fair.

Over the next 20 years, are we willing to write a $400 million-plus blank check to the Department of Transportation given that no guaranteed projects for the future were identified in the legislation? Not me.

The Bureau of Governmental Research has written an excellent report on the bridge and its finances. It can be found at www.bgr.org. Going forward, the ferries will operate, the bridge with state police will be safe, maintenance will continue and through increasing property values without raising taxes, local governments can find the money to pay for lighting.

Renewing the tolls is unfair and a bad deal. That’s why I’m voting “no.”

Jim Tucker is former speaker of the Louisiana House of Representatives. He represented District 86, which included Algiers and other West Bank communities.

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