Filed Under:  Local, News

Knowing when to cede the race

4th March 2013   ·   0 Comments

The judicially ordered recount of the Crescent City Connection tolls revealed that the 18-vote margin of victory (out of 308,000 votes cast) increased by an additional 18 votes. Not five minutes later, Patrick Hand, attorney for the group “Stop the Tolls” announced a lawsuit questioning the validity of the election, based on voters denied provisional ballots on November 6.

It is a challenge neither he nor the organization’s president Mike Teachworth would have made if the hand recount of 4,000 paper ballots in Orleans Parish had tilted in their favor.

This newspaper stood as an ardent opponent of renewing the CCC tolls, arguing that a promise was made more than 20 years ago. Continuing the dollar charge would break it. Legislators justified the levy solely to fund the completion of the second Mississippi River Bridge—and to erect additional road work that was never commenced. When the bonds were paid off, and road work funds squandered, no honorable option remained but to keep the original promise and cast a ballot in favor of the tolls’ expiration.

So our editorial board recommended the people of Jefferson, Orleans, and St. Bernard vote. We lost. Yet even our editors realize that the point comes when one must stop counting ballots until one gets the result he desires. The public has spoken. Let the election stand. It is time to move on.

Moreover, the revelation that the Gretna Ferry will be discontinued, and the Algiers Ferry will find its services cut drastically by this summer, provides a motive for the legislature to keep these critical pedestrian transport vehicles in service. A 2012 Bill did spin them off from CCC governance, but there remains a $2.4 million deficit in keeping the ferries alive. Even with the boats’ ability to charge variable tolls during special events like Saints games and French Quarter and Gretna festivals, that added revenue stream must come from somewhere.

In addition, Algiers Point residents have vocally worried that the custodians who pick up the trash falling daily from the bridge would disappear, and the policemen that keep the traffic flowing every rush hour would evaporate. Without any form of tolls, we admit this to be true as well. Certainly, the beleaguered state budget has no allocation for these special services so essential to the predominantly African-American communities that lay below the spires of the towers.

There is a win/win scenario strangely-appropriate for the 50/50 result of the election, however. Without the burden of the bonds repayment, the CCC can maintain all of its current services by charging only half of its current one dollar tolls (.40 cents for toll tag holders). An opportunity exists to respect the opinions of the overwhelming numbers of West Bank commuters who rejected the tolls by cutting the cost of sporadic travel to fifty cents, and regular crossing to just 20 cents.

Continuing the litigation endangers a real rate cut. Should the lawsuit remain by beginning of the April legislative session, the House and Senate will be judicially paralyzed, and the short window to cut the tolls will close. For the next two decades, the result of “Stop the Tolls” effort will be to keep the tolls—at full price—in place.

Already there is talk of putting out for bid road construction projects this spring, paid for by the full tolls, that would make it impossible to even cut them for the next two decades—much less rid us of them altogether.

Time is of the essence. As such, Misters Teachworth and Hand, please give it up!

This article originally published in the March 4, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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