NEW ORLEANS -- The decorative lighting that defines the spans of Crescent City Connection Bridge at night will go dark this weekend, Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development Assistant Secretary Rhette Desselle told the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission.
Tuesday, the RPC met to learn about the impact of a judge's decision to suspend the tolls on the CCC and throw out the results of the Nov. 6 election that extended the tolls for another 20 years.
The tolls pay for enhanced services such as grass cutting 14 times a year, litter pick up, landscaping and lighting.
The RPC was appointed by the state legislature to oversee the operation of bridge with or without the tolls.
Members, made up of mostly elected officials, voted in favor of a resolution tapping into about $31 million in toll reserves to keep the enhanced services going for another 15 months. The Toll Transition Fund will not pay for decorative lighting or bridge sweeping.
Jefferson Parish President John Young introduced the resolution.
"Right now, we don't have any tolls, but this money belongs to the people of this community," said Young. "It's certainly the DOTD's to pay for everything."
New Orleans City Council Member At-Large Jackie Clarkson called the idea a ploy to trick people into voting against the tolls on May 4.
"Suddenly we'll be out of this transition surplus money and we won't have any plan and we won't have passed the vote because people will think they don't have to vote in May if all is well," said Clarkson.
Clarkson later said she had no choice but to vote for the resolution.
"We have one-time money for ongoing expenses and when that money runs out, the reality sets in," said Clarkson.
"This money is the people's money," said Young. "This money was put in the transition fund for this very purpose."
Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser said the 15 months worth of funding gives local leaders a chance to find a permanent source of money if the toll vote fails.
"I think it's the right way to go about it and not have everything shut off tomorrow so people say this is the way it's going to be if the tolls don't get put back on the bridge," said Nungesser.
In a related development, Jefferson Parish Councilmen Chris Roberts and Elton Lagasse say they want the state legislature to call off the May 4 toll election.
They plan to introduce a resolution at Wednesday's JP Council meeting seeking council support for the idea.
Roberts and Lagasse sent a letter to state lawmakers saying:
"After speaking with some of my colleagues I wish to inform you of our intent to request the Legislature call off the special election in May related to the CCC tolls.
"Following receipt of information providing assurances from Rep. Connick, the BGR, President Young, and 'The Times Picayune' we believe that the issues raised possibly could be a mute point. The only way to determine the ability of the state to meet its obligation is to allow the bridge to run without a dedicated revenue source. We are anxious to see how this works out for everyone.
"This does not diminish the need to address the neglected condition of the Harvey Tunnel or traffic at Manhattan Blvd. and Barataria Blvd. These projects will remain a priority for Jefferson Parish and given the assurances we expect them to come to fruition.
"The council will act on a resolution tomorrow requesting the legislative delegation call off the referendum election in May and save the cost of the election which would be incurred by the State of Louisiana.
"It is our hope that this works out as promised. Rest assured on behalf of commuters and in particular residents of West Jefferson we intend to hold everyone to their commitments."