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Meeting on DOT toll proposal set for Tuesday

By Staff | Jul 8, 2009

After several months of rumors and speculation, the opportunity for members of the public to hear first hand the Lee County Department of Transportation’s plans to alter the current toll discount program will finally happen next week, right here on the island.

The DOT will hold two public information meetings to present proposed changes to restructure the LeeWay Toll Program for the Sanibel, Cape Coral and Midpoint bridges.

The first meeting will be held at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, July 14 at the Sanibel Community House, located at 2173 Periwinkle Way. A second meeting will be held at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, July 15 at La Venezia, located at 4646 SE 10th Place in Cape Coral. Both meetings will begin with the same presentation, followed by a question-and-answer session.

“Commissioner Tammy Hall told us that she’d like for [a public meeting] to happen here,” Ric Base, president of the Sanibel & Captiva Chamber of Commerce said on Wednesday morning. “If a meeting were to be held on Sanibel, that would save people from having to drive into Fort Myers to attend a County Commission meeting.”

Since it initially heard about the DOT’s proposal to alter the toll discount program in late May, the Chamber has been quite active in compiling statistics related to the impact raising the causeway toll would have on local businesses.

The county’s current system consists of 48 different toll program options and, according to the DOT, “is very confusing and complex. The proposed restructuring provides clarity, simplicity and equity for all bridge users.” The county is proposing to eliminate all pre-paid programs purchased on an annual or semi-annual basis.

Paul Wingard of the Lee County DOT, who introduced the 14 percent toll hike at the commissioner’s June 1 session, is expected to attend and participate in both meetings.

“This will be an opportunity for Paul Wingard to present the county’s plan,” Base said. “There are still a lot of questions out there, and I know they [DOT] would like to try and answer as many of those as possible.”

Specifically, the county is proposing a toll structure where each trip will cost the same, one price for cash and one price for ETC (electronic toll collection). For the Sanibel Causeway, the cash toll will remain the same as it is currently at $6 and the ETC toll will be $3. For the Cape Coral and Midpoint bridges, the cash toll will remain the same as it is currently at $2 and the ETC toll will be $1.32.

Base estimated that island businesses spent between $500,000 and $550,000 annually on their employees LeeWay transponders and tolls, which will be impactly dramatically if an increase is approved.

“I don’t know why anyone would want to move in that direction in this economy,” he added. “I know that there’s a problem with revenues at the Cape Coral bridges, but let’s not put that on the backs of our local businesses. It doesn’t make any sense. I’d like for them to explain what their rationale is.”

The idea of making adjustments to the toll discount program has met with opposition almost universally on both Sanibel and Captiva.

“In an era where everybody knows that revenues are down, this is not a time to be thinking about increasing tolls,” Mayor Mick Denham said during a June 9 Planning Commission session. Both Denham and Vice Mayor Kevin Ruane met with the County Commissioners in early June to voice their opposition to the proposal.

If you have questions about the project, contact Paul Wingard of the Lee County Department of Transportation via e-mail at wingarpw@leegov.com or by phone at 239-533-8545.

Anyone needing special accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 should contact Kris Cella with Cella Molnar & Associates via e-mail at kcella@cella.cc or by phone 239-337-1071 prior to the workshop.