St. James Parish Council: No bridge tolls wanted

The St. James Parish Council declined to immediately back the proposed West Bank Connector project after several members expressed doubts about reimposing tolls on the Sunshine and Veterans Memorial bridges to help pay for a new bridge spanning the Mississippi River in Iberville Parish.

Wilfred B. Barry, president of SJB Group LLC., an engineering firm in Baton Rouge, sought a resolution and a commitment of $75,000 from the council Wednesday to support the initial phase of a $1.65 billion development project that would, among other things, connect Interstate 10 in West Baton Rouge Parish with Interstate 310 in St. Charles Parish.

Barry asked the Parish Council to “be a team player” and join other parishes, including Iberville, Ascension and West Baton Rouge, in adopting a resolution supporting the project. But the council took no action and no resolution of support was recommended.

Councilman Jimmy Brazan questioned who would pay for the construction of the new bridge in Iberville Parish, since he believed the state had previously required funding be in place prior to construction.

Barry replied the West Bank Connector plan also recommended imposing tolls on the new bridge and on the Sunshine and Veterans Memorial bridges to help fund the project’s construction. The Veterans Memorial Bridge connects Gramercy and St. John the Baptist Parish.

But several councilmen were against the idea of reimposing tolls on these two St. James Parish bridges to help cover the costs of other portions of the project in other parishes.

Calling tolls on the Sunshine Bridge a tax on the people, Councilman Jason Amato said, “I just can’t support that.”

St. James Parish President Timmy Roussel agreed.

“I’m not really for the tolls on the Sunshine Bridge,” Roussel said, also referring to a separate plan pushed by state Sen. Troy Brown., D-Napoleonville, to bring back tolls to the bridge.

The West Bank Connector project would allow a driver to bypass Baton Rouge on the west side of the Mississippi River, traveling from Port Allen directly to New Orleans or re-entering onto I-10 south of Gonzales near St. Gabriel and Bayou Corne, via an “interstate-quality connection,” Barry said.

The proposed project also includes upgrading La. 70 near Donaldsonville from La. 3127 to La. 3125; improving La. 3127 from I-310 to La. 70; upgrading the existing La. 1 from west of Donaldsonville to south of Plaquemine; creating a new route from La. 1 south of Plaquemine to I-10 west of Port Allen; building a new route from La. 3125 to I-10 and creating new connectors at La. 1 and La. 30 for the new Mississippi River Bridge.