Contact: Amy Davies, Lee County Department of Transportation


FORT MYERS, Fla. (July 19, 2004) - Lee County transportation and administration officials are proposing a toll increase for the Sanibel Causeway to pay for the replacement of its three bridges, a move necessitated in part by recent lawsuits and increased construction costs. The proposal calls for the current $3 toll to increase to $6. The discounted prepaid toll would increase from 50 cents to $3. The eight other discount programs for the bridge also would increase. A complete list of the discount programs is included at the end of this release and is available on the Internet Depending on how frequent a user you are and which discount program you select, your per trip cost could be as little as $1.71 cents. Go to the same web site to see a chart of discount programs and per trip costs. The Board of Lee County Commissioners will begin considering the proposal at its July 27th meeting (9:30 a.m.). County staff will recommend setting a 5 p.m. public hearing on August 10th to discuss the proposed tolls. Both meetings will be in the County Commission Chambers, Old County Courthouse, 2120 Main St., in downtown Fort Myers. Timing is critical for a decision on the increased toll proposal: LeeWay's discount tolls programs renew each November. Tolls must be established in advance of that deadline to allow the county time to advertise the changes to motorists. The county hopes to issue bonds next year to permanently finance the replacement of all three Causeway spans. Replacement of Spans B and C, which is proceeding this year, is being temporarily financed with commercial paper and toll reserves. To secure affordable permanent financing, the county must first show a commitment to finance the project with tolls. The project must move forward before the current bridges deteriorate any further. The bridges currently are safe for vehicular traffic with the restrictions currently in place. The county is striving to replace the bridges before conditions worsen. The increase is due in part to two recent lawsuits, which delayed the financing process. Lee County was scheduled to close on the 2004A Transportation Facilities Revenue Bonds in January. At that time, the bonds would have paid for the replacement of the Sanibel Bridges with the current toll rates. After lawsuits filed by the City of Sanibel and Save Our Bay Group, the 2004A Series were withdrawn from the market. In addition, the delay in the project increased estimates to build the new bridges. Over the past year, steel and cement costs increased. Transportation and administration officials relied on information from the county's toll structure consultant in making the proposal for the toll increase. URS Corporation performed a survey of bridge users in March, looking at various toll-structure scenarios. County staff considered one other proposal that would have set the toll at $5, but eliminated the discount toll programs. County staff rejected this proposal because it would negatively impact frequent bridge users, such as Sanibel residents and workers. The County Commission awarded a $28-million contract in May to replace B span (middle span) and a $31-million contract in June to replace the C span (closest to Sanibel). Transportation officials expect the replacements to be completed by mid-2006. The county is continuing to defend lawsuits against the replacement of the A span (drawbridge).  Recommended Toll Structure for Sanibel Bridge Program Existing Proposed Cash Toll $3.00 $6.00 Discounted Prepaid Toll $0.50 $3.00 3 axle $4.50 $9.00 4 axle $6.00 $12.00 5 axle $7.50 $15.00 Extra Axles $1.50 $3.00 Motorcycles $1.00 $2.00 Annual Unlimited $150.00 $600.00 Annual Prepaid $25.00 $100.00 Semi-Annual Unlimited $90.00 $450.00 Semi-Annual Prepaid $15.00 $75.00 Annual Combo Unlimited $380.00 $930.00 Annual Combo Prepaid $50.00 $140.00 Semi-Annual Combo Unlimited $230.00 $650.00 Semi-Annual Combo Prepaid $30.00 $99.00 ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS MOTORISTS ARE LIKELY TO ASK If approved, when would the new toll go into effect? November 1, 2004. When was the last time the Causeway toll increased? Never. While discount programs have been adjusted at various times, the $3 toll has been in place since the bridge was built in 1963. A $3 toll in 1963 is equivalent to $18 today. Is the toll for the Cape Coral and Midpoint bridges increasing? No, the new debt will be fully supported by Sanibel toll revenues. Why does the toll have to increase? To pay for the cost to replace the three Sanibel Causeway bridges (A, B, and C spans). It is estimated the three replacement bridges, in total, will cost between $100 million and $105 million. Due to delays of the project, Sanibel toll rates will require an increase because of escalated interest rates, increased bond coverage/insurance requirements, being required to issue bonds for the cost of the project, and increased construction costs. How much money is Lee County borrowing? Lee County is borrowing $85 million to pay for the bridges and needs to generate an additional $6.5 million annually to support this new debt; $20 million of surplus toll reserves also is being used to pay for the bridges. Can't other revenue sources be used other than tolls? No. Other transportation projects around the county are funded with local gas taxes or a portion of property taxes, all of which have been committed. To free up any of these funds would require eliminating needed road projects in other areas? How do you know what the toll should be? The county has a tolls expert, URS Corporation, that did what is known as an "elasticity" study in March. URS surveyed driver habits to determine what the appropriate toll should be to repay the bonds needed to finance the bridges. Too low a toll, and the county doesn't collect enough money to repay the bonds. Too high a toll, and not enough toll-paying customers cross the Causeway, jeopardizing repayment of the bonds. Also factored into the equation is how many drivers will take advantage of discount programs, and at what cost those discount programs should be set. As a resident, how do I minimize my costs? If you are an infrequent user, sign-up for the prepaid, discount program (transponder); you will continue to pay $3 per trip, as you do now. By using other discount programs, your trip cost - depending on how frequent a user of the Causeway you are - could be as little as $1.71 a trip. See the attached attached chart, or visit

, to determine - based off of the number of trips you make per week - the best discount program for you. How do I sign up for discount toll programs? Call LeeWay at 239-533-9297 or visit the LeeWay Service Center, 1366 Colonial Boulevard in Fort Myers at the foot of the Midpoint Memorial Bridge (next to Royal Palm Square). Is there any way to keep the toll down? Eliminating discount programs would keep the toll to $5 a trip. However, it would have a major negative impact on frequent users - workers and residents - so that option is not being recommended. Can Sanibel residents have a deeper discount? No, discount programs need to be available to all bridge users. What happens if the toll isn't increased? Unfortunately, that is not an option. Without the toll increase, the bridges cannot be replaced.