This month, commuters started paying 50 percent more to travel on the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. Causeway commissioners, who are well-intentioned, want the added cash for "safety improvements," but residents — including myself — have more questions than answers.
Will these enhancements reduce the number of accidents? Will $ 100 million eliminate congestion during rush hour? When will we see a return on our investment?
Additionally, how long will it take to pay off the bonds being sold to finance the $103 million project? 25 years? 50 years? Never?
The southbound span was built in 1956 at a cost of $46 million and the northbound span was built in 1969 at a cost of $30 million. Despite hundreds of millions paid in tolls over the years, there’s still a $40 million debt. Sixty years later, we are still paying for the original work.
The Greater New Orleans Expressway Commission justifies increasing single-trip tolls from $3 to $5 and toll tags from $2 to $3 as a way to construct what they describe as “safety bays.” Unfortunately, there is not enough proof that these augmentations will actually improve safety. In fact, many are concerned that the bridge might be less safe after these “safety improvements” are complete.
What’s to stop motorists from using the “safety bays” as a third lane, only to have the lane end abruptly and force drivers back into the regular lanes? Imagine the pile-ups that would cause. What an embarrassment and complete waste of money.
Here’s the truth: the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway is incredibly safe. Thanks to the hard work of the Causeway police, motorists drive with confidence. While accidents occur periodically, there is no 48-mile stretch of roadway that will be accident-free over long periods of time. The Causeway is no different.
This session, I introduced House Bill 478, which requires an "objective analysis" before bonds in excess of $5 million are issued. This legislation relies on the same eight criteria used by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) to determine if the “improvements and betterments are necessary and will enhance safety.”
Many other areas in our state have far more fatalities. However, the modifications to improve safety do not cost anywhere near what the commission plans to spend. Before we commit to huge multi-million dollar projects, we should know what we are paying for, maintenance costs, and the plan for debt retirement. That’s common sense and it’s the type of good government that hardworking Louisianans deserve.