Garcon Point Bridge: ‘It’s not over’

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State Sen. Doug Broxson: “Certainly we want to pay off the indebtedness and get the toll cost down … maybe even free. But that’s a long ways away.”

JENNIE McKEON @JennieMnwfdn

GULF BREEZE — Efforts to resolve the issues surrounding Garcon Point Bridge were unsuccessful during the 2018 legislative session. But Florida state Sen. Doug Broxson said he’s not done trying to find a solution for the bridge that has been in default since 2011.

“This is not over,” he said.

Earlier this year, the House and Senate proposed bills that would have turned the bridge over to the state and placed it in the Florida Turnpike System. The legislation called for a new bond issuance and allowing the retirement of bonds issued to bondholders.

In a letter to William Bloom, trustee for the Garcon Point Bridge bondholders, Broxson wrote that both bills “appeared to be in position of passage” by both the House and Senate. But then a House committee made late changes to the bill. Those included removing all language from the feasibility study, mandating a price certain of assets of authority, arbitrarily re-setting toll rates and requiring that the state offer cash for the purchase.

“The House leadership got nervous about the bonding and changed the bill,” Broxson said Thursday. 

Because the budget had already been done, there was no money set for the provisions, according to Broxson. The bill died.

The bridge has never been able to generate enough traffic to pay its debts, as an estimated 7,500 vehicles drive across everyday. The toll was originally $2 and has since risen to $3.75. Bondholders have discussed raising the toll to $5, which Broxson addressed in his letter to Bloom.

“We respectfully request you continue tolls at their current price and not seek injunctive relief in forcing your proposed increase of $5. It is our intention to convene a conference between the parties to discuss proposals for resolving this issue,” the letter said.

Broxson said he doesn’t know what the price of the Garcon Point Bridge would be. According to a Daily News story from January, the bridge debt is at $135 million.

“No one knows,” he said about the bridge price tag. “I’m hoping to be away from setting a price. I believe that’s the Department of Transportation’s responsibility.”

Broxson said discussions about the bridge will resume this summer. The Senate is not in session again until March 2019. Broxson said his preference would be to purchase the bridge and work toward buying off the bonds.

“It’s an area of contention,” he said. “Certainly we want to pay off the indebtedness and get the toll cost down … maybe even free. But that’s a long ways away.”

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