Despite the opening of a cash lane last month, problems remain on a $161 million toll bridge in far south Louisiana, officials said Wednesday.
The bridge, which opened in 2009, is on La. 1 in Leeville.
The structure is just west of Grand Isle and crosses Bayou Lafourche.
It is used to haul nearly 20 percent of the nation’s crude oil and natural gas supplies, as well as a regular line of fishing enthusiasts.
But the bridge has been plagued by troubles since tolls started being collected two years ago, including the lack of cash lanes.
Michael Bridges, undersecretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development, noted that a new cash lane opened on June 20.
That and other changes, Bridges said, have paved the way for higher revenue collections and increased sales of the Geaux Pass, which is a transponder read electronically and deducts the payment from a driver’s account.
But Bridges told the Louisiana Transportation Authority that the cash lane is facing longer-than-expected lines during peak hours and special events.
He said only one Automatic Toll Payment Machine has meant time-consuming breakdowns, and transaction times on the machine are longer than desired.
In addition, the ATPM will get a canopy in September to ease problems with customers standing in the rain to pay to cross the bridge.
State Sen. Norby Chabert, R-Houma, whose senatorial district includes the bridge, said the lack of a canopy is one of several problems.
“Those poor fellows are out there with umbrellas and 99-degree heat,” Chabert said of bridge customers.
DOTD is responsible for toll collections.
The Louisiana Transportation Authority is a nine-member panel that was set up in 2001 to pursue alternative funding sources for road and bridge improvements, including tolls and public and private partnerships.
Members include the chairwoman and chairman of the House and Senate transportation committees and DOTD Secretary Sherri LeBas.
Chabert, who was sitting in for Senate President John Alario, said there is also a need for fast action on one-day passes across the bridge, which DOTD officials said may be available in about one month.
“Any way we can increase the ease of use is a great thing,” Chabert said.
About 8,000-10,000 cars and trucks use the bridge daily.
The bridge generated $3.4 million in toll revenue in 2010, which was nearly $675,000 less than needed to meet borrowing obligations.
Most car drivers who use the bridge pay $2.50 per round trip.
The top charge for big trucks is $12.
Bridges said that, in a bid to make the ATPM machines more reliable, technical staff was placed at the site as well as to provide assistance to motorists.
A second such machine will be added in October.
“We will get this straight,” he said.