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Toll program changes discussed again by DOT

By Staff | Jan 6, 2010

The issue of eliminating certain toll discount programs for users of the Sanibel Causeway has been raised again by the Lee County Department of Transportation, but members of the City Council are already saying that they consider the matter closed.

On Tuesday, Mayor Mick Denham referred to a letter he received in late November from Paul Wingard, Deputy Director of the DOT. In the letter, Wingard details a pair of changes that the DOT is considering regarding the toll discount program.

“We want to treat motorcycles as we do all other two-axle vehicles,” the Nov. 30, 2009 letter reads. “We are proposing to charge them the same per trip as an automobile. This makes us consistent with the balance of the State of Florida and allows us to provide transponders for motorcycles.”

According to Wingard, the DOT is also considering eliminating the six-month toll discount program. That would mean the lone discount program available on the causeway would be the 12-month option, which would have a dramatic impact on part-time island residents.

“If we move forward with this change, it would mean that everyone would have to buy and annual program,” he stated.

Presently, there are 1,959 subscribers to the six-month toll discount program.

Denham informed his fellow councilors that in his response letter to Wingard, “I said that we will discuss it, but I don’t think it’s something that we would support.”

In July, Wingard and DOT officials made two presentations on Sanibel discussing adjustments to the existing discount programs. Under terms of their proposed plan, commuters who already owned a transponder would pay a flat rate of $3 to cross the Sanibel Causeway, a 50 percent increase from the current discounted $2 fee.

Their plan also included a $400 cap on collected tolls for users of the causeway.

At the July 20 City Council meeting, Vice Mayor Kevin Ruane reminded Wingard that in 2004, when the city brought a lawsuit against Lee County in opposition of constructing a new bridge and causeway, the two sides settled the case by granting Sanibel 21 percent of the net proceeds after expenses from toll revenues. That percentage was surrendered in favor of LeeWay establishing a prepaid toll discount program for users of the Sanibel Causeway.

“We have a written document that says we’ll have a toll discount program,” Ruane said at the time.

On Tuesday, Ruane appeared astonished that the issue had been brought up by the DOT again.

“I can’t believe that six months later we’re at the same point,” he said. “We have a written settlement agreement with them.”

While Denham did suggest to Wingard that the city and DOT should explore the possibility of collecting an “equitable toll for large trucks that negatively impact the bridge and roadways,” he and Sanibel’s leaders agreed that the issue of eliminating toll discount programs should not be explored any further.

“I agree with Kevin,” said Jim Jennings. “I think we already have an agreement, so let’s not go back there.”

The council collectively decided that Ruane should draft a letter to be sent to the Lee County Board of County Commissioners, with copies going to the DOT and the county attorney, formally opposing any discussions related to changes to the toll discount program.

“If you want this thing to die, you’ve got to reach the commissioners,” added Peter Pappas.