MANDEVILLE- It's been decades since the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway has seen an upgrade or an increase in toll fares.
But after multiple overboard crashes on the bridge, both are now closer to reality than ever before.
A proposal in front of bridge leaders involves raising the railings on the southbound span and creating staggered shoulders for emergencies. But it comes at a cost of increasing tolls by $1 for tag drivers; $2 for cash drivers.
Over the past two years, getting to this point has included crash testing, bridge crash studying, extensive research and number crunching.
Wednesday night, after a breakdown of the current $103 million proposed improvement plan, the Causeway's drivers became the focus of that conversation for the first time.
"The people that's not doing anything wrong is paying for this," said one man, "Why punish us?"
"I have no problem with it, the toll increasing. To me, it's a user fee. Someone that doesn't use the bridge doesn't pay," said Matthew Isman, "I just returned from a vacation in New York. The toll to cross the George Washington Bridge was $17, one way."
In addition to the for and against comments, there were alternatives offered to both the improvements and the toll hikes.
"My opinion, we need to get the 18-wheelers completely off that bridge, especially during peak hours, and we need to reduce the number of work trucks and people pulling things on trailers," said daily Causeway driver Tom Cuff.
Other ideas included increasing violation fines and asking legislators to change various laws that either take money or resources away from the Causeway.
"I suspect that most of the people here are opposed to this, even though we understand the improvements needed and I just hope there are other means to fund the necessary improvements," said Carlo Hernandez.
It's the kind of feedback bridge leaders wanted and needed.
"The people we look after the most are the ones that use the bridge the most and, frankly, that's one of the reasons the bridge is so safe because they look out for each other too," said Bridge Director Carlton Dufrechou, "With that, and enforcement, and hopefully with 21st Century improvements, this bridge will keep going for another 100 years or plus."
The presentation to the audience of roughly 70 people will be available on the Causeway's website Thursday morning. Commissioners are currently scheduled to vote on this proposal at next month's meeting on the 10th, but it was requested by one commenter that that decision be delayed to gather more public feedback.