Monday, March 18, 2013

Councilman Roberts Questions DOTD Regarding Decorative Light Payments

After the decorative lights were turned out over the Crescent City Connection Friday, Jefferson Parish Councilman-At-Large Chris Roberts is asking the State DOTD to clarify contradictory reports regarding the funding of the electric bill for the decorative lighting on the Mississippi River Bridge in Baton Rouge.

The Regional Planning Commission (RPC), a collection of elected and appointed officials, has jurisdiction over the tolls that were collected on the CCC. The tolls paid for the cost of the electric and the maintenance for the lights. The RPC, at the urging of Jefferson Parish President John Young, approved spending the toll money fund balance on a package of maintenance services for the bridge while waiting on the May 4th revote to either extend the bridge toll for another 20 years or end the tolls.
To the dismay of many, the decorative lighting on the bridge was not included in President Young’s legislation approving the continuing services.

According to the DOTD, all lighting, whether street lighting or decorative lighting on a state road, is a local issue and the cost must be borne by the local governing authority. Previously, the cost was paid through the tolls. Now, the cost must be shared by Jefferson and Orleans Parishes, and the City of Gretna.
In researching this point, Councilman Roberts discovered a 2003 article in the Baton Rouge Advocate which states that the DOTD is paying for the electric bill for the Baton Rouge bridge.

The article states:
DOTD will pay the light bill, estimated to run about $3,000 a year, said assistant secretary for operations Gordon Nelson.DOTD will pay the light bill, estimated to run about $3,000 a year, said assistant secretary of operations Gordon Nelson.”

The electricity cost to run the CCC decorative lighting is estimated at $15,000 per year with an additional $60,000 per year spent on maintenance.
Councilman Roberts sent an email late Friday evening to Rhett Desselle, Assistant Secretary for the DOTD, regarding the I-10 Mississippi River Bridge in Baton Rouge.

A concerned resident inquired tonight about the cost for the decorative lights on the bridge in Baton Rouge. Can you please respond with the name of the responsible party and/or funding source that pays for those lights. This would include the electrical cost and the maintenance.A concerned resident inquired tonight about the cost for the decorative lights on the bridge in Baton Rouge. Can you please respond with the name of the responsible party and/or funding source that pays for those lights. This would include the electrical cost and the maintenance.”
Desselle responded, “In regards to the I-10 Bridge over the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge, the monthly electric service for both the roadway and the decorative lighting is paid by East Baton Rouge (EBR) – Department of Public Works.”

“The maintenance of roadway lighting is handled by local government as well via a maintenance contract they have with Entergy.”
Councilman Roberts responded and cited the Advocate article and the contradiction.

While the CCC bridge is predominantly in Orleans Parish, it does cross into unincorporated Jefferson Parish and the City of Gretna. All three governing bodies must agree on a mechanism to fund the continuation of the decorative lighting or seek a Cooperative Endeavor Agreement with a third-party like the Young Leadership Council (YLC) to cover the cost.
The YLC raised almost $500,000 for the initial cost of the lighting in 1989 and attempted to reach a Cooperative Endeavor Agreement with the Regional Planning Commission to pay for the continuation of the lighting, at least temporarily, but was unsuccessful.
“It’s unfortunate. We have the money in place,” YLC President Richard Pavlick said. “We did our best and we wanted to keep them on.”.
For his part, Councilman Roberts has no issue with Jefferson Parish paying for their portion of the bill to keep the decorative lighting on.

“I do not have a problem with Jefferson Parish paying for the portion within our jurisdiction - I do not know specifically how many of the lights that would be,” Councilman Roberts said.
To get that answer and determine JP’s portion, Monday morning, Councilman Roberts sent an email to Parish President Young asking Young to determine what the cost would be for JP’s portion of the decorative lighting bill.

“According to the state, East Baton Rouge parish is paying for decorative lights on the bridge crossing the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge.

I am urging you as Parish President to have the Public Works Department determine the number of decorative lights which would fall within our boundaries of unincorporated Jefferson Parish.

I feel Jefferson Parish needs to make an offer to the state to fund the lights which would represent the portion of the bridge span located in Jefferson Parish.”
Until an agreement is reached between the governing bodies or a third-party, the decorative lights on the CCC will remain dark.
 

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