State purchases Garcon Point Bridge for $130 million, tolls reduced starting Thursday
It's been nearly a year since Gov. Ron DeSantis announced plans to reduce the Garcon Point Bridge toll. Now the plans have become reality.
"This is a huge, phenomenal day," said Florida District 1 Senator Doug Broxson.
Beginning at 12:01 a.m. Thursday toll rates on the Garcon Point Bridge will be reduced from $4.50 to $2.30 for SunPass customers and from $5 to $2.75 for cash customers. Now that the state owns the bridge, the tolls collected will remain in Florida.
Last July, DeSantis said the rate reduction would be done within weeks. But it turned out it wasn't that easy as the state was negotiating with bondholders on the sale of the bridge. Broxson credits new leadership for getting the job done. In April, DeSantis named Jared Perdue as Secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT).
"The governor was not happy that it was taking so long," Broxson said. "When the governor appointed a new secretary, one of the first tasks he was given was to take care of the bridge. It was number one or two on his list. And it took a new team negotiating with bondholders."
The total sale of the bridge was about $130 million, said Broxson. That includes about $35 million the state paid to bondholders for the nine-month period when tolls were withheld while the Pensacola Bay Bridge was under construction for damage sustained during Hurricane Sally.
"We've given them the money, it's ours," said Broxson.
The privately-owned bridge was constructed for $95 million in 1999 and with authorization pushed through by former Florida House Speaker Bolley “Bo” Johnson, D-Milton. It never made the money it was projected to make based on what Broxson called an “ill-conceived” traffic study. By 2011, the bridge authority defaulted on its bonds.
"Since 1994, we've been dealing with an out-of-state entity that didn't have an interest in the state," said Broxson.
In the past 20 years, the tolls for the bridge kept increasing and were up to $3.75 before they were increased again to $5 in 2020.
This rate decrease offers some relief to drivers while gas prices continue to increase nationwide and in Florida, as well as the overall cost of living.
When Broxson was first elected to the Florida Senate in 2010, the bridge was a big issue for his constituents and had just gotten another rate increase. It would continue to be an issue brought up year after year, until now.
"It took 12 years," he said. "We're good now."