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Cashing in on Causeway toll surplus

By Staff | Nov 19, 2014

For the first time in over a decade, the Sanibel Causeway is literally paying back Sanibel’s citizens, after a surplus payout of $1.3 million was raised by the toll funds in the last year.

Sanibel is guaranteed 21-percent of the Causeway’s surplus, with 79 percent going to Lee County. But this was the first payout to the city in over 10 years, because a secondary loan – or otherwise known as a junior lien – was paid off last year, thus opening the surplus payments back up.

“When the new causeway was built, there was a bond taken out by the county to pay for it,” said Sanibel vice mayor and councilman Doug Congress. “In addition, another secondary loan was taken out. Until that junior lien was satisfied in full, we didn’t get any surplus revenue.”

The junior lien was paid well ahead of schedule, so that allowed the surplus payments to start being paid to Sanibel.

With the upswing in the economy and more people using the Sanibel Causeway, the estimated surplus revenue for Sanibel of $150,000 in the second half of the year, was largely underestimated. Instead, the final six months produced $410,000 of surplus funds (which was paid last month), and added to the $940,000 generated through Oct. 1, 2013 to March 1, 2014 (paid last April).

In all, it equalled an all-time high $1.3 million.

“Obviously, the first-half payment will be much higher, simply because Oct. 1 through March 31, is the busy season,” Congress added.

That is evident in the Lee County Department of Transportation traffic volume studies, in which the peak months of February and March produced a high amount of cars using the Causeway in 2014.

On Thursday, March 27, there were 23,169 vehicles recorded which passed the toll gates on the Causeway. Earlier that week on March 25, 22,060 vehicles used the Causeway, while Wednesday, Feb. 26, 23,678 were recorded.

The toll to use the Sanibel Causeway increased from $3 to $6 in 2004, which was used to help pay for three new bridges in Lee County which cost $108 million.

The $1.3 million will be put in the transportation budget for Sanibel, which includes repairs to culverts, roadways such as Periwinkle Way and anything which has to do with transportation on the island.

“Those costs used to come from the general fund, and although it’s not a direct savings to general fund, it is a true savings to the taxpayers,” Congress said of the Causeway surplus payment.

The City of Sanibel will continue to receive 21-percent of the surplus created by the Causeway and will be paid twice a year in the months of April and October.