It doesn't take too much time for news to spread across the island, so when details regarding the Lee County Commissioners' plan to raise tolls on three local crossings - including the Sanibel Causeway - made waves last week, the resulting reaction to scuttle their notion became the hottest topic around town in years.
The idea to raise tolls at the causeway, Cape Coral Bridge and Midpoint Bridge, brought forth by the Lee County Department of Transportation, was discussed during the June 1 commission meeting. The plan calls for the toll discount program's rates - administered through LeeWay - to be raised as a means of securing additional funding for DOT programs.
For example, the fee to cross the causeway would jump from $2 to $3 per trip, an increase of 50 percent.
Revenues on the three bridges are down approximately five percent over the past year, a loss of almost $4 million, according to the DOT.
However, at last week's City Council session, Vice Mayor Ruane pointed out that over the past 12 months, revenue generated at the Sanibel toll plaza has increased approximately one percent. (Revenues at the Midpoint Bridge are down six percent; revenues at the Cape Coral Bridge are down four percent, according to county statistics.)
Which begs the question: Why should Sanibelians, workers and visitors to this island be punished for being a successful component of an obviously flawed toll discount program?
Mayor Mick Denham, in a letter to Commissioner Ray Judah, requested that the causeway be considered separately from both Cape Coral crossings. He also offered several alternatives to increasing tolls, including:
Delaying any increases until the economic environment improves
Reducing operating costs as an alternative to increasing tolls
Re-scheduling or delaying pending landscaping and beautification projects until our economic climate improves
Utilization of the accumulated reserves rather than toll increases to meet debt coverage
In addition, Ruane suggested that county officials look into the possibility of refinancing outstanding bonds as a means of lowering their current debt.
In the meantime, the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce is mounting an anti-toll hike campaign. They have already begun to gather financial information about what effect an increase would make on Sanibel businesses.
To that end, we encourage all island residents - full time or part time - visitors, business owners and impacted workers to write to the Lee County Commission and voice your opposition to adjusting the LeeWay toll discount program. Their address is:
Lee County Board of County Commissioners
P.O. Box 398
Fort Myers, FL 33902-0398
Speak up and make your opinion known. You may not think that your letter will make an impact, but a stack of letters will certainly get their attention.
- Reporter editorial