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Commentary: Crescent City Connection Dysfunction Needs Legislative Action

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Culture of Fiscal Mismanagement Demands Systemic Reforms, Elimination of Bridge Police Force

A flurry of recent reports has implicated the Crescent City Connection Division in an array of new financial troubles. These new findings merit increased scrutiny and demand imperative reforms.

The CCCD, under the jurisdiction of the Department of Transportation and Development, is responsible for oversight, policing, and maintenance of the Crescent City Connection bridges, which connect the East and West Banks of New Orleans over the Mississippi River.

The CCCD’s financial mismanagement, however, has become increasingly apparent, as affirmed by three commissioned studies. For example, a bridge engineer was fired for greenlighting work without written contracts, and an annual insurance premium of $4 million dollars turns out to be wholly unnecessary.

These studies also highlight systemic flaws in the toll collection process. 8 percent of vehicles with toll tags aren’t charged because their accounts have insufficient funds to cover the 40-cent toll, while over $5 million in fines for toll violations remain uncollected, and nearly 20 percent of toll violators are never notified of their offense.

The Bureau of Governmental Research, a New Orleans-based policy institute, has determined that only 19 percent of all toll revenues actually go towards policing and maintenance of the bridge. The remainder is allocated to unrelated expenditures, such as the three Mississippi river ferries which use 32 percent of the CCC’s toll revenue. Additionally, an audit last year by Steve Theriot, the state’s legislative auditor, found that the CCCD has managed to deplete half of a $61 million dollar reserve fund.

The drastic amount of mismanagement and squandering of resources accentuates the need to greatly scale back operations of the Crescent City Connection Division. And this need will only become more pointed with the expiration of tolls at the end of 2012. The CCC will then lose $21 million of its $27 million budget.

One of the biggest proponents of reforming the CCC is Rep. Patrick Connick (R-Marrero), who has pushed several audits and has vocally decried its wasteful expenditures. Last session, Connick authored a bill which would have eliminated the Crescent City Connection police and replaced them with state police.

The CCC police force consists of approximately 35 officers and its own police chief, with a recently constructed administrative complex that cost over $4 million dollars. Replacing this unnecessary autonomous force with state troopers will allow the state to shed expenses while retaining more oversight of the bridge’s operations. Nonetheless, Connick’s bill ultimately failed in the Legislature.

Once the tolls expire at the end of 2012, however, the CCC will no longer be able to generate revenue to support its costs. This will entail more state spending at a time when it is strapped for cash. To mitigate the effects of this, the CCC needs sharp reforms, and Connick’s proposal for this session (HB 551) would foster that transition away from the CCC police force. It would also scale back the size of the CCC division and reduce its funding needs.

Jamison Beuerman is a contributing writer and policy analyst at the Pelican Institute for Public Policy. He can be contact at jbeuerman@pelicaninstitute.org or followed on Twitter @jbeuerman.

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