- Associated Press - Thursday, July 21, 2016

MANDEVILLE, La. (AP) - Citizens filled the St. Tammany Parish Council chambers and listened as Lake Pontchartrain Causeway officials explained in detail a proposal to increase tolls to fund $103 million in safety improvements on the 24-mile bridge.

NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune reports (https://bit.ly/29VNrAO) most of the speakers Wednesday night expressed criticisms and objections to the plan to beef up railings on the southbound span and construct sections of shoulder on both bridges.

Mitchell Christian of the Mandeville area, complained that local and state taxes are already too high and that he couldn’t afford higher tolls. He questioned the wisdom of spending of $40 million to improve railings on the southbound span to protect those who speed, tailgate and text and fail to maintain control of their vehicles.

“The people that’s not doing anything wrong are paying for this. Why punish us?”

St. Tammany resident Mark Allbritton said he wasn’t necessarily opposed to the idea of adding shoulders to the bridge, he but questioned why citizens in St. Tammany and Jefferson parishes don’t have a say in the matter. “Why not put it up for a vote of the people of the two parishes? “Why is that not an option?

He said St. Tammany residents are already “taxed to death. I don’t think you understand that. I’m going to pay it. I’m going to go kicking and screaming, but I’m going to pay it,” he said.

About 60 people attended the Causeway Commission’s meeting and heard bridge General Manager Carlton Dufrechou give a 25-minute presentation on the proposal, expected to be voted on next month by the Causeway Commission. Dufrechou has recommended increasing the $2 round-trip cost for a toll-tag customer to $3 and raising the toll for cash customers from $3 to $5. Bridge officials would use the anticipated revenue to borrow $103 million via bonds.

An estimated $40 million would be used to improve the railings on the southbound span, from which 13 vehicles have plummeted into the lake since 1994. The concrete retaining wall is 25 inches high, six inches shorter than the railing on the northbound bridge. Only one vehicle has gone over the side of the northbound span since 1994.

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Information from: The Times-Picayune, https://www.nola.com

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