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Tolled Over: Votes still coming, recount looms on Crescent City Connection measure
by William Dilella
On Tuesday, one vote of importance to everyone's wallets was the measure that proposed extending the Crescent City Connection Bridge tolls. Two days later, one of the more heated discussion points to appear on the ballot has seemingly passed by the smallest of majorities—a mere eight votes. But with some votes still yet to be counted, the future of the tolls is still uncertain.
Act 865, if it passed, would extend the tolls on the CCCB for 20 years and fund operations, as well as put more stringent and descriptive rules into effect on exactly how the money collected would be spent.
A heated debate ensued between politicians and local business entities, who claimed that Westbankers were being unfairly burdened by the de facto tax. Politicians cited that the legislation would let the people of the area, the ones who pay the tolls, decide.
“[This] absolutely gives the right to the voters in this area of the CCC Bridge to continue the tolls, if they so choose,” said Rep. Karen Gaudet St. Germain (D-60).
Rep. St. Germain, who also authored the bill—promised that this new legislation would not repeat, "the sins of the past."
“With the amendments coming up, it gets a lot more specific," St. Germain said. "It makes sure that DOTD only expends those tolls on the maintenance, operations and inspections of that specific span, which is described in this bill.”
Opposition said they'd heard it before, but the vote went to the people.
The turnout was high by local standards, with 308,738 votes overall (by contrast, the 3rd District Congressional Election between Charles Boustany and Jeff Landry that had caught national attention had 311,366 votes total). The opposition and support for the act was fairly even (even on the Louisiana Secretary of State's website, the voting percentage literally reads 50-50). The final tally only separated yes and no by a mere eight votes (154,373 for and 154,365 against).
The only parish that supported the act was Orleans, with 73,166 for and 61,939 against. Jefferson Parish voters came back with 74,973 for the tolls, but 87,019 against. Plaquemines had 4,234 for and 5,407 against. And In a race where (almost literally) every vote counted, it is interesting to remember that one version of the bill was originally amended, amongst other things, so only Jefferson and Orleans residents would vote on the issue. This version was rejected, and following that rejection, a joint committee of House and Senate members convened and agreed that most of the amendments were acceptable. The only one removed by the committee was the amendment excluding Plaquemines Parish from the vote.
Following the committee’s report, the final signed version that made its way up the chain passed with far more than the two-thirds majority required for placing an amendment on the ballot, which brings us to where we are today. Or where it appears we are.
On Wednesday, November 7, Clerk of Court Arthur Morrell announced that given some issues with the election, including one charge of irregularities and some early and absentee ballots still looming in the count, and with such a slim margin, the vote can not be called certain, not yet.
Morrell said that he can't say how long it will take to validate the results, nor is it certain how long any recounts would take, should they be called for.
For now the highly contested fate of the tolls stays an unknown.
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