Broxson & Investors Meet On Future Of Garcon Point Bridge
If some investors in the Garcon Point Bridge get their way, travelers will pay a higher toll. That’s part of the agenda for Thursday’s meeting between a state lawmaker and investor representatives on Thursday.
State Rep. Doug Broxson, a Republican from Gulf Breeze, will sit down with attorneys from New York Melon Bank – who along with its traffic advisor FTI Consulting represent the bondholders. In November they requested that the toll go from the current $3.75 to five dollars.
“Unfortunately, the residents in our area, the users, have very little leverage on telling them, ‘Hey, we need to be part of this formula, since we’re paying the bill indirectly through tolls,’” said Broxson.
Since that request, Broxson has held a community forum in Gulf Breeze and received numerous calls and emails. All of them, he says, show outrage over both the current toll and the prospect of an increase.
The Garcon Point Bridge opened in 1999, funded by $94 million in bonds purchased by private-sector investors, and for the most part it’s under-performed financially. Drivers paid a two dollar toll originally. That went to $2.50 in 2002, $3.00 in 2004, and $3.50 in 2007. The current $3.75 toll began four years ago.
Technically, Broxson says, the investors could implement the five dollar toll simply by notifying the Florida Department of Transportation of that intent. But he sees a glimmer of hope from a missed deadline and hesitation on their part.
“They haven’t done that, they could have done it on December the 4th,” Broxson said. “We’re now approaching March and they haven’t raised it. So I know that they’re hearing the concerns.”
Besides raising the toll, FTI also wants to reduce the discount for those using the SunPass transponder from 50 to 25 percent. Everything is open for discussion, except for the possibility of the bridge being purchased by FDOT. Broxson points the bridge’s growing debt for keeping that off the table.
“Ninety-four million [dollars] to build it, the debt on the bonds now approaching $130 million,” says Broxson. “Plus, they owe the state another $35 million. So, how do you sell a $94 million bridge for $164 million? That is the problem.”
If there is any interest , by anyone, in purchasing the Garcon Point Bridge, Broxson says he’ll insist that the deal be struck based on the span’s actual income.
One roadblock both sides have to work around is the now non-existent Santa Rosa Bay Bridge Authority. Created by state law, the six-members. three appointed by the Santa Rosa County Commission and three by the Governor, was to oversee the Garcon Point Bridge. But for all practical purposes, the panel has virtually disappeared.