After eleven nights of relative darkness, the Crescent City Connection's decorative lights returned last night. The Regional Planning Commission Tuesday accepted the Young Leadership Council's offer to fund the cost of operating the lights through June.
The lights went dark the evening of March 15, days after transportation officials suspended toll collection on the bridge. The toll suspension came about as a result of a Baton Rouge judge nullifying results of the November election which narrowly approved extending tolls another 20 years.
The Department of Transportation and Development says it cannot afford to pay the $60,000 annual operating cost for the lights without the millions of dollars the tolls collect each year. But the Young Leadership Council insists the agreement they made with the state in the 1980s requires the state to operate the lights whether the tolls exist or not.
State representative Jeff Arnold (D-Algiers) agrees with the YLC. Even though Arnold supported renewing the tolls, he told WWL-TV the issue of the decorative lights atop the steel cantilevers should not be tied to the toll revenue.
"Whether we have tolls or not, the lights should be on, according to the contract," he said.
But while that remains in dispute, Arnold says the YLC will cover the cost of the lights until the RPC can take over.
"YLC's going to pay for three months and then the Regional Planning Commission will use the existing dollars, transition dollars, to keep the lights on for a year," Arnold said. "Hopefully, we'll find a permanent solution."
Rep. Austin Badon (D-New Orleans) is suggesting a permanent solution this spring when the legislature convenes. He told WWL-TV he wants to dedicate a portion of a proposed cigarette tax increase to funding the bridge's needs.
"That bill would increase the cigarette tax by a dollar and five cents, and I want to take a portion of that and send it to the Regional Planning Commission for the operation and maintenance of the bridge," he said.
"The bridge adds so much to the skyline of New Orleans," Badon said. "We can't allow it to go dark."