NEW ORLEANS -- The decorative lights on the Crescent City Connection are back on for the first time since the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development shut them down on March 15, a week and a half ago.
“I’m glad they’re on,” said state Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans. “You know, the bridge adds so much to the skyline of New Orleans. We can’t allow it to go dark.”
The state turned off the lights earlier this month, saying it had no funding to pay for them after a judge threw out the vote extending the tolls for 20 years and ordered a halt to collecting tolls.
The Regional Planning Commission approved a resolution to accept an offer from the Young Leadership Council to pay for the lights for the next three months until another election is held on the tolls.
“The YLC's going to pay for three months and then the Regional Planning Commission will use existing dollars, transitional dollars, to keep the lights on for a year,” said state Rep. Jeff Arnold, D-Algiers. “Hopefully we'll find a permanent solution.
Arnold supports the tolls, but even without toll money he argues the state made a commitment to maintain the lights when the Young Leadership Council donated them in 1989.
“Whether we have tolls or not, the lights should be on according to the contract,” he said.
Meanwhile Badon says he has pre-filed a bill that would dedicate a portion of a cigarette tax increase to pay for keeping the lights on.
“And that bill would increase the cigarette tax by $1.05, and I want to take a portion of that and send it to the Regional Planning Commission for the operation and maintenance of the bridge,” Badon said.
Officials say it costs $60,000 a year to operate the lights. $15,000 of that goes for the electricity.
The Regional Planning Commission also committed leftover toll money to sweeping the bridge and expressway approaches on both banks of the Mississippi River.