Ferry fight moves to Baton Rouge
Published 11:45 pm Friday, April 20, 2012
By ROBIN SHANNON
LAPLACE – St. John the Baptist Parish President Natalie Robottom on Monday told a state legislative committee that the loss of the Reserve-Edgard ferry would make it difficult for the court system to operate while also making it tough on some west bank residents to get to appointments on the other side of the Mississippi River.
Robottom spoke toward the end of a five-hour House Appropriations Committee meeting dedicated to hearing grievances from people who would be hurt by state budget cuts proposed by Gov. Bobby Jindal. Ferries in St. John and at White Castle would be discontinued if Jindal’s budget is approved as is. An independent streamlining commission recommended the cuts.
Robottom said only about 4,000 of the parish’s 46,000 residents live on the parish’s west bank, but there are few essential services, such as hospitals and other medical facilities, on that side of the river. The west bank community of Edgard also serves as the parish seat.
Robottom, told the committee that eliminating the ferry would significantly increase travel time and costs for residents, business owners and court employees who must travel from the east bank to the west bank and vice versa. She said residents who are called to the courthouse for jury duty and other matters also often use the ferry. She said removing the ferry could limit the jury pool and hinder the parish judicial system.
“While we applaud the governor and his staff for their efforts at fiscal responsibility, cuts to the ferry service would do more harm to people than provide benefit to the budget,” Robottom said. “This cut would save the state money, but those costs would be passed on to residents and business owners. The parish has an extremely limited door to door public transit system for residents who do not own a vehicle, and this would cause additional difficulties.”
Robottom also said many of the residents who would be impacted by the ferry closure are elderly and low income. She said most require vital services that are primarily located on the east bank.
“With almost all medical facilities and services in St. John the Baptist Parish located on the east bank, the ferry provides critical transportation for west bank residents to access necessary health-care services,” Robottom said.
The 34-car capacity Reserve-Edgard ferry costs $1.2 million per year to operate and annually takes 161,000 vehicles across the river. The total does not include pedestrians, who also use the ferry. Riders pay $1 per car to travel to Edgard, but no fare is charged on the trip from Edgard to Reserve.
Without the ferry in place, residents must either make a 32-mile trip from LaPlace to Edgard using the Veterans Memorial Bridge in Gramercy, or a 45-mile trip using the Hale Boggs Bridge in Luling to get across the river.
Robottom said ferry consolidation has already occurred in the River Parishes with the opening of both the Hale Boggs Bridge in 1983 and Veterans Memorial Bridge in 1995. She said when the Reserve/ Edgard ferry was out of service from 2007 to 2010, the state invested a several hundred thousand dollars upgrading the ferry landings.
Robottom also touched on the possible hit to tourism in the region should the ferry be removed She said cyclists from across the state often use the ferry, since it’s the only safe place to cross the river between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
“Louisiana continues to fund walking and cycling trails near the Mississippi River and to cut off a vital transportation link would hinder safe cycling and dampen a growing eco-tourist business. Eco-tourists primarily travel by bike and more and more visitors are choosing to cycle around our countryside. Without a safe place to cross the Mississippi River, visitors are less likely to visit our private and public tourist attractions.”
Lawmakers have until the end of the legislative session, which adjourns June 4, to approve the state’s budget.