Bill would waive bridge fines for some

A state Senate panel advanced legislation that would drop state action against some drivers who were caught not paying their tolls when crossing the Mississippi River in New Orleans on the bridge called the Crescent City Connection.

The bridge had a system of photographing the license plate of any driver not paying a toll. But 2011, the system malfunctioned and stopped weeding out those drivers who had bought a “toll tag,” said state Sen. David R. Heitmeier, D-New Orleans and sponsor of Senate Bill 500. The number of violations rose from about 10,000 per year to 70,000 annually, he said.

The state Department of Transportation and Development lawyers said they had no choice but to send letters demanding payment. In many cases, the amount sought was 40 cents or 80 cents and the people receiving the letters, many of whom had toll tags, ignored the demands, which were then forwarded, also required by law, to the state Attorney General for collection, along with increased fines and penalties, Heitmeier said.

Voters in October ended toll collections on the bridge.

Heitmeier said his SB500 would allow the state to waive the collection of past tolls and penalties for drivers who had “toll tags” and had no more than five infractions.

“I’m just trying to make right,” Heitmeier said. “We have a liability with equipment malfunctioning for almost two years.”