Paul Murphy / Eyewitness News
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METAIRIE, La. - About 40,000 vehicles cross the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway every weekday and a new state audit indicates last year, bridge tolls brought in more than $16 million.

That's a 3 percent increase, year over year. But, according to Causeway General Manager Carlton Dufrechou, the revenue is just keeping pace with expenses.

'Basically, what we can do with the funds we have is keep the bridge in the shape that it is today,' said Dufrechou. 'But, as far as major improvement, that won't happen.'

That means there's no extra money to build new guard rails to help keep motorists from ending up in the water during an accident.

'Bottom line there is no residual money to do projects of this magnitude,' said Dufrechou. The new guard rails would cost about $50 million.

The Causeway Commission is also studying the possibility of installing new safety shoulders on the bridge. They would be spaced halfway between each crossover at a cost of $60 million.

Eyewitness News asked commuters if they would pay higher tolls for either proposal.

'Definitely, definitely, with everything that's happened recently with the cars (going over the bridge),' said one man.

Another driver said, 'I wouldn't mind doing that for safety, yeah, for people yeah.'

'Just a little more, yes,' another driver said. 'But, not too much. It's already $3.'

Causeway officials say there is room for growth when it comes to tolls. They point out that about 63 percent of daily commuters use a toll tag and cross the bridge for $2 round trip. They say that's the exact same fare placed on the bridge when it opened in 1956.

'Compared to other toll facilities, we're probably the lowest, in fact I'm positive we're the lowest per mile of any place in the country,' said Dufrechou.

The cash price for a round trip across the Causeway increased from $2 to $3 in 1995. That was the last and only toll increase on the bridge.

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