Bridge toll extension still in question

It could be this weekend before New Orleans area commuters know whether they will have to keep paying tolls on the Crescent City Connection bridge.

Secretary of State figures show a ballot item extending the tolls for 20 years had eight more "yes" votes than "no" votes. But an extended deadline for military ballots was in effect until Wednesday night.

Orleans Parish Clerk of Court Arthur Morrell said any such ballots would be counted Saturday. Meanwhile, machine totals are to be verified Thursday.

Unofficial returns showed supporters of the 20-year toll extension casting 154,373 "yes" votes; the "no" votes totaled 154,365.

Voters in Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes and in New Orleans voted on whether tolls that have been collected since 1989 from motorists using the New Orleans-bound lanes of the bridges over the Mississippi River should be extended for 20 years. They are otherwise set to expire at the end of the year.

Proponents of extending the tolls included New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and most members of a state task force that studied the issue. Supporters said the tolls - $1 per car or 40 cents for motorists with electronic toll tags - should remain to provide dedicated revenue for operating, lighting, maintaining and repairing the bridges.

Opponents, among them state Rep. Patrick Connick, said allowing the tolls to expire would simply be keeping a promise to motorists, now that construction debt for the newer of the two spans is paid off. The state has money to maintain and improve the bridge, they argue.

Besides, opponents say, collecting the tolls simply ties up traffic on a vital artery.

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