A Louisiana panel studying the tolls on twin state-toll bridges across the Mississippi River in New Orleans has cautioned against removing the fees.

A 10-member task force, created by the Legislature and appointed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, voted 7-1 on Jan. 20 to recommend that the tolls be continued on the Crescent City Connection. The system of bridges and three ferries is operated by the Crescent City Connection District, a unit of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development.

The final $2.7 million debt-service payment on the bonds that financed the Crescent City Connection is due in November, and the tolls will expire on Dec. 31 unless the Legislature extends them.

Without the toll revenue, the district’s budget would drop to $5 million from the current $27 million a year.

The panel’s 60-page report to the Legislature said without the toll revenue, ferry operations would probably cease and bridge maintenance would drop below acceptable levels.

“The bridge will simply be one of more than 13,000 bridges in the Louisiana system and approximately 1,500 in the region vying for limited state funds,” the report said.

Recommendations included a new $1.25 toll on pedestrians who currently ride ferry boats free and increasing the $1 vehicle toll, though an exact amount for the hike was not proposed.

The task force said the ferry system should be privatized. A 2010 state audit found that it costs $8.4 million a year to operate the ferries, which generate only $250,000 a year in revenue.

The first of the two cantilevered bridges was built with $65 million of revenue bonds issued in 1954 by the Mississippi River Bridge Authority.

The Department of Transportation and Development issued $39.5 million of revenue bonds in 1992 to build new approaches to the bridges, and sold $19.2 million of bonds in 2002 to refinance the 1992 bonds.

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