New Orleans — The West Bank approach to the Crescent City Connection could shrink from 12 lanes to five if local voters decide not to renew tolls next month, according to a recently released traffic study done by the state.
Voters won’t decide whether to renew the tolls until Nov. 6, but the state is already making plans for how to handle traffic if the fees are eliminated. Transportation Secretary Sherri LeBas responded to Jefferson Parish President John Young’s request for information about how the state planned to handle the switch in a letter Thursday.
The study, which was conducted by an independent consultant, calls for traffic to be merged farther west than it is currently. It also suggests eliminating one lane on the Terry Parkway flyover that accesses the expressway.
Changes to the bridge approach would begin shortly after Nov. 6 if the tolls are eliminated and initially would just involve removal of existing signage. Officials want to phase in some of the changes to accommodate high traffic volumes expected for events such as the Super Bowl in February. Young said he is having the parish’s directors of public works and engineering review the proposal, which only examines the West Bank.
But Young said the study is fairly sparse and doesn’t include many details on how the change would affect traffic on both the lower and elevated expressway. He said he requested an update on the state’s work weeks ago and was surprised at what was released.
“It’s very, very light on details and specifics,” Young said. “I was expecting a much more detailed and intricate plan, quite frankly. It doesn’t appear to be any real significant changes at this point.”
The state expects it to take about six to nine months to remove the toll booths and restripe lanes, according to the study. The Department of Transportation and Development still plans to study how traffic at the reconfigured toll plaza might be affected by congestion on the east bank, increased vehicle traffic and changes to ferry service.
As part of the new traffic plan, the state is considering implementing “ramp metering” on the expressway. Ramp metering restricts how many vehicles can use an entrance ramp in a given period of time as a way to reduce freeway congestion. However, it can cause backups at approaches, which could mean more gridlock on the lower expressway.
Officials also are examining changes to east bank ramp configurations and the usage of the high occupancy vehicle lanes.
The state changed some of the lane configurations on the expressway last year, and residents have complained that those changes negatively affected traffic flow.
Vicky Watrous, a West Bank resident, said she believes the state is using the threat of horrendous traffic to try to frighten residents into approving the tolls. Watrous doubts that removing the tolls will cause any sort of gridlock, noting that in some cases, the toll plaza can make traffic worse.
“It’s scare tactics is what it is. It’s not the truth,” she said. “To be perfectly honest, I can’t imagine it being any worse than it already is.”
State. Rep. Patrick Connick, a frequent CCC critic, also said the reduction in lanes would make traffic better. He’s spoken to several engineers who say that going to five lanes should improve traffic flow, particularly since drivers will no longer be making unnecessary stops.
“This is only going to make things better,” he said. “It gets it back to where it was intended to be.”