Congressman opposes ferry shutdown

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 30, 2012



LAPLACE – One Louisiana congressman is taking issue with Gov. Bobby Jindal’s plan to close a pair of Mississippi River ferries as part of state budget cuts.

In a letter to Jindal sent Monday, U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond from the Second Congressional District was critical of the governor’s plan to cease ferry service in both St. John the Baptist Parish and in White Castle in Iberville Parish.

“River ferries have served as key components in the success of these areas’ local businesses,” Richmond said in the letter. “The ferry is an avenue by which pedestrians and others without easy access to a bridge can visit family, see a doctor of their choice and serve their civic duties.”

Richmond, a Democrat from New Orleans, specifically mentioned in the letter that the St. John ferry, which connects Edgard on the west bank to Reserve on the east bank, annually shuttles more than 161,000 drivers across the river. He said the River Parishes have grown significantly, and the region is attracting international industry looking to use the river as an access point.

“The chemical sector alone is planning $5.6 billion worth of capital investment in manufacturing and related services in the area currently served by the Reserve-Edgard and White Castle ferries,” Richmond said.

He added, “These potential boosts to the state’s economy will only occur and become successful if residents – with and without vehicles – have a feasible means of transportation that is neither burdensome or costly.”

As part of his budget proposal announced earlier this year, Jindal recommended the closure of both ferries as part of a push to save about $2 million a year within the state transportation department. Jindal’s office said the ferries don’t generate enough money from commuters to cover their operational costs.

The 34-car capacity Reserve-Edgard ferry costs $1.2 million per year to operate and. 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.

In a recent appearance before the House Appropriations Committee, Robottom said only about 4,000 of St. John Parish’s 46,000 residents live on the 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, and residents are often required to cross the river for jury duty and other court activities.

“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,” the parish president  added.

State legislators have until the end of the session, which adjourns June 4, to make adjustments to the state budget.

The Reserve-Edgard ferry also has the outspoken support of the local state legislative contingent.