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Wingard: Toll proposal wasn’t about revenue

By Staff | Jul 29, 2009

Looking back on the Lee County Department of Transportation’s decision to drop any potential changes to toll rates at three area bridges, Sanibel and Captiva residents and business owners took a collective sigh of relief last Wednesday afternoon when word of their decision began to circulate around the islands.

“I think we won the battle,” is how Sanibel Vice Mayor Kevin Ruane put it.

DOT Deputy Director Paul Wingard said last week the department decided to back off on its proposal following an overwhelmingly negative response from the community.

“There was a negative response from Sanibel, though we really didn’t hear a lot from Cape Coral,” he said. “I would almost guess we had more pros and cons in Cape Coral.”

The DOT’s plan was to eliminate prepaid tolling options in favor of pay-as-you-go, discounted rates for Sanibel and Cape Coral.

The $6 trip over the Sanibel Causeway would be reduced to $3, and the $2 trip across the Cape Coral and Midpoint bridges would be reduced to $1.32, according to the DOT’s plan.

The DOT estimated that under the new plan, 14 percent of users would pay more, while 86 percent would pay the same amount or less.

The plan also proposed a cap of $400 for the Sanibel Causeway, though no cap system was proposed for the Cape Coral bridges.

Wingard said the DOT was unable to address the “issues” that were raised at both meetings. He and the DOT said all along that the proposed changes were never revenue driven, merely an attempt to simplify what they described as an overly complex toll system.

“The proposal we were making was never about money. It was about making things simpler and lowering operating costs,” he said. “We went to the community and asked, ‘What does it mean to you?’ and some issues were raised. Additional issues were raised, and some we could take care of and some we couldn’t.”

Scheduled to go before commissioners for public comment Aug. 11, the issue is now dead.

“I’m not at all surprised because I’ve been formally opposed to it all along,” said Lee County Commissioner and Sanibel resident Bob Janes after hearing the news last Wednesday evening. “I think that (the DOT) were going to have a difficult time trying to get it through, especially in this economy when everybody’s trying to cut expenses. This was not the right time to be doing that.”

DOT Director Scott Gilbertson sent an e-mail to commissioners announcing the plans to drop the proposed changes.

“Based on the information received, it does not appear the proposed changes can be further modified sufficiently to satisfy all concerns raised and still collect the revenue needed to meet bond requirements and expenses,” he wrote.

Wingard added that he did not expect the DOT to address the issue again in the near future.