Bridge toll debate heats up with morning protest

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wwltv.com

Posted on May 3, 2012 at 8:31 AM

Updated Thursday, May 3 at 6:40 PM

Paul Murphy / Eyewitness News
Email: pmurphy@wwltv.com | Twitter: @pmurphywwl

NEW ORLEANS - About a dozen protesters "occupied" a Westbank Expressway on-ramp during Thursday's morning rush hour.

They carried signs warning commuters about potential ramp closures when tolls on the Crescent City Connection Bridge expire at the end of the year.

"Everybody now is going to be getting in line, in another place, going backwards to get in line, to get across the bridge," said Friends of the Ferry founder Fay Faron.

The state Department of Transportation and Development, plans to reconfigure the Westbank bridge approach to eliminate the 12-lane toll plaza.

Protesters say in doing so, ramps at Terrytown, General DeGaulle and Mardi Gras Boulevard will close.

"Their plan is to take these three on ramps and close them down so that they've got less lanes coming into the bridge," said Faron.

According to DOTD, future traffic plans for the bridge are still under development.

Department spokeswoman Bambi Hall says no decisions have been made about possible ramp closures.

"We are working with local elected officials as well as our DOTD engineers and our traffic division and we're looking at ways to make it a very efficient method and operation once the tolls go away," said Hall.

Pro-toll supporters have been more organized in recent weeks, lobbying lawmakers to keep the tolls on the bridge.

They have expressed a long list of concerns when the dedicated toll money goes away and the bridge is forced to compete with the rest of the state for transportation dollars.

"We heard the bridge is going to go dark, of course," said Faron. "The grass is going to grow. We have no dedicated police force, all of these things are effected."

No-toll supporters call that kind of talk scare tactics as debate over the bridge's future heats up in Baton Rouge.

"I heard the governor say that the tolls will go away and there are plans in place and nothing should change except that the tolls should go away," said Westwego business owner Scott Burke.

The topic of bridge tolls also came up at Thursday's New Orleans City Council meeting.

Council members adopted a resolution asking state lawmakers to keep tolls in place.

Council President Jackie Clarkson said the money is needed to keep the CCC maintained and lit.

She also said tolls pay for ferry service across the river and police protection on the bridge.

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