- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 19, 2016

METAIRIE, La. (AP) - Crossing the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway could soon get more costly.

The Greater New Orleans Expressway Commission is scheduled to consider a proposal to raise the toll fee by $1 to finance as much as $100 million in bonds for safety improvements.

It now costs $3 to cross the Causeway from the north shore to the south shore, or $2 with a toll tag. Traveling the northbound span is free.

The bridge opened in 1956. Since then, tolls have increased only once, in the mid-1990s.

General Manager Carlton Dufrechou tells The New Orleans Advocate (https://bit.ly/29JiMpr) the bridge is in desperate need of areas where vehicles can pull over, as well as improved safety rails along the southbound span.

Dufrechou will make his recommendation for a toll increase when the commission meets Wednesday in the St. Tammany Parish Council chamber. No vote on the proposal will be taken until the August meeting, he said.

Dufrechou said he plans to recommend that segmented safety bays, or shoulders, be added to the bridge at regular intervals, with six on each span.

The 672-foot-long stopping areas would be spaced between the existing crossovers and would provide space for drivers to move their cars out of the travel lanes. The cost would be about $60 million, he estimated.

“We have about six breakdowns per day,” Dufrechou said. More than a third of accidents on the bridge are rear-end collisions that happen within the first two minutes of a breakdown, he added.

He also plans to recommend installing rails on top of the concrete barrier along the southbound bridge. The vast majority of accidents in which vehicles careen off the bridge into Lake Pontchartrain happen on the southbound span, where the barrier is only 25 inches high, 6 inches lower than on the northbound side.

Adding the rails would cost about $40 million, bringing the total for the recommended improvements to about $100 million, Dufrechou said.

Securing 30-year bonds for that amount would likely require tolls to increase by $1, he added.

Causeway officials have been pondering safety upgrades for several years. The ideal solution, Dufrechou said, would be to add a lane to each span. But that would cost nearly $2 billion.

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Information from: The New Orleans Advocate, https://www.neworleansadvocate.com

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