Opponents of Crescent City toll file suit

Opponents of the Crescent City Connection toll renewal filed a lawsuit in Baton Rouge on Tuesday challenging the results of the Nov. 6 election.

Michael Teachworth, the director of Stop the Tolls LLC, announced he filed a challenge in 19th Judicial District Court seeking an immediate recount and possibly a revote in the election that extended the tolls for 20 years. Teachworth is being represented by G. Patrick Hand III of Gretna.

Teachworth promised the lawsuit would be forthcoming weeks ago, and he said he followed through with that promise because residents are still upset at the way the toll renewal was handled. He said he feels that since Jefferson Parish politicians ignored residents’ pleas to file a challenge, it was up to citizens to protect their own rights.

“We’re just a bunch of citizens trying to stand up for what we think is right,” Teachworth said. “Basically we still believe the tolls are an unfair tax. Fundamentally, that’s it … We were hoping they would step up, but if they didn’t, we were going to do it ourselves.”

The lawsuit claims that given the strange circumstances surrounding the toll vote, there needs to be a recount of those absentee ballots and early voting ballots cast in the election. Teachworth’s lawsuit notes that initially the results favored the elimination of the tolls before last-minute vote counting in Orleans Parish turned the election.

The toll renewal was defeated in Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes, but passed in Orleans Parish. The final margin of victory is listed as 18 votes on the Louisiana Secretary of State’s website. Teachworth said the slim margin of victory and the prevailing sense that there was some chicanery in the process mandate a recount.

“For a vote that’s this close, for this much money, for this long of a time, we need to make sure that everything’s on the up and up,” Teachworth said Tuesday night. “I guess we have faith that people will do the right thing”

Toll opponents have long accused the renewal’s supporters of unfairly influencing the process, noting that thousands of dollars were pumped into the campaign by businesses and politicians who supported the renewal. One of the issues with a legal challenge has always been the cost of that endeavor. Teachworth said that his group has raised some funds, but said it’s not a huge amount.

“We’re going to take it as far as we can,” he said.

Teachworth’s lawsuit also claims that many residents were improperly given provisional ballots and those ballots did not allow them to vote on the toll referendum.

In its most explosive accusation, the lawsuit claims that an unidentified Orleans Parish poll worker openly encouraged voters to approve the tolls because it would save them money on their property taxes.

Teachworth’s group reached out to residents over the past few weeks for their stories about their experiences at the polls, and that’s how they received the tale about the poll worker, he said.

The toll renewal was an extremely contentious issue in the November election that resulted in dueling press conferences and accusations.

The tolls, which are $1 for those with cash or 40 cents for toll tag users, produce about $22 million in revenues. Opponents of the tolls accused them of leading to widespread abuse and waste, while proponents of the fees said they’ve helped maintain the bridge and West Bank Expressway at the proper level.

Most local politicians have already moved on from the toll vote. At a recent Jefferson Parish Council meeting, politicians grilled a state official on how the toll money will be used for capital projects in Jefferson Parish. The state has announced a full slate of capital projects using both old and new toll revenue.