Legislator questions N.O. bridge

A Mandeville legislator raised concerns Thursday morning about state government’s ability to maintain the Crescent City Connection bridge in New Orleans without toll income.

The issue came up when state Department of Transportation and Development officials went before the Senate Finance Committee to review the proposed state spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year.

Republican state Sen. Jack Donahue asked DOTD Secretary Sherri LeBas what will happen to the bridge’s employees, service and maintenance should voters reject a 20-year toll extension this weekend.

“Let me figure out where I want to start with answering that question,” LeBas said before stating that the bridge would be maintained with state funds.

Donahue interjected that the state’s bridges already rate poorly in maintenance grades because of funding problems.

The connection consists of twin cantilever bridges over the Mississippi River in Jefferson, Orleans and St. Bernard parishes. Electricity bills for the bridges’ decorative lights run about $16,000 to $17,000 annually. Maintenance costs could add as much as $34,000 to the yearly upkeep bill.

“It’s a tremendous bridge. I would imagine it’s a maintenance nightmare,” Donahue said.

Rhett Desselle, DOTD’s assistant secretary of operations, said all bridges in the state are inspected every two years for problems.

Should the election fail, the Crescent City Connection’s maintenance will be funded with state funds instead of toll dollars, he said.

“We do the best we can with the resources we have,” Desselle said.

Donahue pressed DOTD on whether the Crescent City Connection would complicate the agency’s work list.

Desselle said all critical repairs are done immediately. He said preventative repairs could be done sooner then they currently are.