State to Buy Garcon Point Bridge, Permanently Cut Tolls
In Milton this morning, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced plans to permanently lower the tolls on the Garcon Point Bridge, and also to purchase and transfer ownership of it to the state.
“This is a great day, governor,” state Sen. Doug Broxson as he and other members of the Northwest Florida Legislative Delegation greeted Gov. DeSantis upon his arrival at the Garcon Point Bridge toll plaza for the news conference.
“Well, as many of you can probably figure out, we’re here in Santa Rosa County to talk about steps forward with the Garcon Point Bridge,” began DeSantis.
He stated that in the aftermath of the Hurricane Sally damage that shut down the Pensacola Bay Bridge, people started using this span connecting north and south Santa Rosa County more than ever before.
“FDOT, under Kevin Thibault, I said, ‘We got to get this thing back as soon as possible,’” he said in reference to the bridge over Pensacola Bay.
“They did work really hard and they did a good job, but that did not happen overnight. So, you had so many people that had to be diverted to Garcon Point.”
DeSantis also noted those who were already using the bridge for a whopping $5 each way.
During the months the Three-Mile Bridge was being repaired, the governor provided relief to motorists forced to use the Garcon Point Bridge by waiving the expensive tolls.
But, with those repairs now complete, the governor is turning his attention to providing permanent toll relief, adding that for someone making $10 an hour, the current $5 toll amounts to half an hour’s pay.
“So, today I’m pleased to announce that I’m directing FDOT Secretary Thibault to immediately reduce the toll rates on the Garcon Point Bridge from $4.50 to $2.30 for SunPass customers and from $5 to $2.75 for cash customers,” he proclaimed.
“These reduced toll rates are consistent with other FDOT toll facilities around the state and the new rate erases 20 years of toll rate increases to this bridge.”
To ensure the toll remains at the lower rate, the governor is also directing the Department of Transportation to reach a settlement with the Garcon Point Bridge trustee and bondholders to purchase the bridge and transfer control to the state, Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise.
And, as he referenced the delays and other difficulties motorists encountered in using the span, DeSantis said he plans to ask the state legislature to codify these actions into law.
“So, we’re doing this and hopefully be able to get this whole bridge situation finally stabilized. I know they’ve had a lot of trouble and Doug has talked to me about it a number of times. So, we’re here to get it done and I think these are great first steps,” stated the governor as he called District 1 Sen. Doug Broxson to the podium.
“Governor, you’ve never seen me cry in public, but this is so big,” declared Broxson, who represents Escambia, Santa Rosa counties, and some of Okaloosa.
Broxson shared a bit of the history of the now Garcon Point Bridge, which was constructed in 1999 based on what he called an “ill-conceived” traffic study in the early 1990s and wound up becoming a hardship for investors and for users of the bridge.
The senator called it a powerful message of economic development for Santa Rosa County, “This is one of the most important things that we’ve ever done to help the people support their families, get back and forth to work, and it’s because of you, not only during the storm but now after the storm to see the crisis that this bridge has caused. So, thank you, sir, for being here and God bless you.”
“Since I was elected in 2016, not a week goes by, sometimes not a day goes by, that I’m either talking about this bridge or I’m hearing about this bridge and these excessive tolls. It comes from single parents. It comes from people who use it every day. It comes from business owners,” said state Rep. Jayer Williamson of Pace, whose District 3 includes the Garcon Point Bridge.
“It’s huge for the people that live here in Santa Rosa County and all of Northwest Florida. That bridge has had an excess toll for years, and now we’re rolling these toll rates back really 20 years when you look at the price that it’ll cost now,” he said.
“That’s going to put more money back into my constituents’ pockets. And, if you’re somebody that uses that bridge every day, you could be putting a paycheck or two paychecks back into their pocket because of this and they can spent on things they need to spend it on and not a commute.”
Williamson points out that problems brought on by increased use due to Hurricane Sally put a spotlight on the situation with the Garcon Point Bridge, even though efforts to resolve the high toll and ownership issues date back years.
He did not want to speculate on how much it could cost for the state to purchase the span, but added that he’s ready to move forward with the governor’s plans to take it over.
“I’m thrilled about this, but there’s a lot of work that’s got to happen from here. And, I’m committed to do everything I can and use my time and resources and any kind of clout that I may or may not have, I’m going to use it to make sure that we get this thing done.”
Meantime, DOT Sec. Kevin Thibault, who was with the governor, said his department would get to work right away on negotiations for the purchase of the bridge and on launching the new toll-rate schedule, with a goal of having the new rates in place within a couple of weeks.