A television news broadcast Friday morning created a stir among many Marco Island residents. According to reports, the broadcast said Marco Island city leaders discussed a $2 toll for the S.S. Jolley Bridge to fund the construction of a new four-lane structure.
The Collier County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), a countywide multiagency group that studies transportation and planning in the county, decides how to spend the Florida Department of Transportation money that is allocated to Naples and Marco. The MPO prioritizes projects and then funds it with state money.
Members include all of the Collier County commissioners, two representatives from the City of Naples, and one each from Marco Island and Everglades City. Marco Island City Councilor Mike Minozzi has represented the city on the MPO for seven years.
The organization met Friday in Naples.
"During a hypothetical discussion with a reporter, I was asked about the idea of a $2 toll rate," Minozzi said after the MPO meeting. "No recommendations or decisions have been made at this point."
He added that the city council hasn't decided whether a toll should be supported. He said that the public should know that no city council or MPO member has recommended a toll, let alone a specific dollar amount.
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"At the council meeting where Mr. Minozzi was briefing us on the MPO meeting at the time, the council did not support a toll, and for the record, I don't support a toll," Marco Island City Council Chairwoman Terri DiSciullo said. "I think there should be other funding sources found to fund a new bridge. I think that a toll will degrade our way of life as residents, tourists and business owners."
Councilor Ted Forcht said residents have told him that the state should pay for the new bridge.
The Jolley and Goodland bridges connect the mainland to Marco Island. The DOT said that the Jolley Bridge needs to be replaced because it was built more than 30 years ago.
Minozzi and DiSciullo said the DOT has the responsibility for the Jolley Bridge.
"The bridge has been on the top of the MPO project funding list for years, but there is never enough money to fund it," DiSciullo said. "It will be $30 to $40 million."
Minozzi noted that the state has paid $2 million for the engineering plans, which are nearly completed.
"We have worked for years to try to obtain funding from the state, federal government and other agencies," he said. "All to no avail. While the state believes we do need another bridge, they do not have any plans to address the issue until at least 2025 or later."
During Friday's MPO meeting, the organization gave the go-ahead to Cambridge Systematics to do an in-depth traffic study and whether a toll for the bridge is feasible.
The MPO has earmarked $1 million for the S.S. Jolley Bridge Toll Feasibility Study.
Minozzi said that the study would be carried out in two phases. The first phase would be a preliminary feasibility study costing $481,000.
The study will include estimating the traffic and revenue that a toll may produce and other potential revenue sources, and provide information to the public and receiving citizen feedback.
Minozzi said the study will also answer many questions, including whether a toll is needed to get on or off the island, what the cost should be, where the toll booth should be located, whether traffic bottlenecks will result, and if Marco Island residents get a free or discounted pass.
DiSciullo said that, if a toll booth was approved, it would likely be constructed near the Isles of Capri.
"Yes, I would expect backups," DiSciullo added. "I don't know one toll booth that I have been through that doesn't have some traffic backup."
Forcht said residents of the island should get a free or discounted pass if a toll is charged.
The study will also determine how much traffic onto the island will be diverted to the Goodland Bridge and how much revenue will be lost if a toll is established.
Minozzi said that a Web site and phone number will likely be created for people to respond with their opinions on the new bridge and toll.
He added that he asked Cambridge Systematics to hold a public meeting on Marco Island early next month and the company agreed. Cambridge will develop PowerPoint presentations to show to homeowners associations, the Marco Island Area Chamber of Commerce and other business and civic groups.
If phase one of the study determines that a toll is feasible, the second phase would create a study that could be used to support debt financing.
Minozzi said if it turns out that a toll is rejected, the study ends and phase two will not done.
"If (Cambridge) determines that a toll is feasible, then they will determine what the toll should be," Minozzi said.