It’s not whether the Judge S.S. Jolley Bridge will be replaced some day, it’s the how.
The bridge connecting mainland Collier County to Marco Island is not slated for replacement until at least 2030, but officials are talking now about how to fund the project.
Tolls dominate the scrutiny of a study released Monday after more than a year of meetings, surveys and focus groups conducted at the behest of the Collier County Metropolitan Planning Organization. The county funded the $356,400 study by Cambridge Systematics Inc., with a $1 million loan from the Florida Department of Transportation.
Along with presenting the attitudes of residents, visitors and commuters to the island — most are staunchly against tolls — the study outlines the possible revenues to be had from constructing a toll booth at the north end of the bridge.
Scenarios call for anywhere from 50 cents charged to Marco residents to $4 charged to visiting vehicles. The six scenarios all present different options, including lower introductory tolls that would rise over time versus a higher rate remaining static over time. Four of the scenarios offered call for residents to pay reduced rates of anywhere from 66 percent to 17 percent of the rates levied on non-residents.
“In terms of local funding, there’s really just nothing available,” said Phil Tindall, director of the Collier MPO. “Obviously, we’re going to rely on our friends at the state and federal levels as much as we can.”
Models call for annual toll revenues of anywhere from $800,000 to $5 million, after expenses and debt servicing.
An estimated $58 million to $72 million could be earned from tolls over 35 years, according to the study.
Money generated from tolls could cover construction costs of a four-lane span, currently slated for construction in 2030 and estimated to cost $45 million in today’s dollars.
Tindall said the study would be presented to the Marco Island City Council at its June 2 regular meeting, and to the MPO committee June 13. MPO members will be faced with deciding whether to move the study to phase two, which would give the county clearance to more closely examine funding models.
Still, Tindall said, it is hard to put a time stamp on the project.
“I wish I could give you a date, but until that second phase of the study is done, it’s really hard to give an answer as to when you might see a toll facility,” Tindall said.
And, Tindall adds, turning the Judge S.S. Jolley Bridge into a toll bridge is still not a certainty.
According to the study, tolls would likely reduce traffic over the Jolley Bridge by about 10 percent, with drivers either opting to avoid Marco or to go 10 miles and about 15 minutes out of the way to travel over the Goodland Bridge.
During daytime hours in the middle of peak season, the Jolley Bridge operates at or near capacity in both directions, carrying 1,000 to 1,400 cars per hour, the study stated.
Numbers decrease significantly in the off-season, but the study anticipates them rising beyond the bridge’s estimated capacity in the next two decades. By 2015, the bridge is anticipated to be at full carrying capacity non-stop between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. during peak season, with the southbound lane peaking well beyond the 1,400-cars-per-hour capacity from 3 to 6 p.m.
“By 2030, demand during most of the daylight hours of the day could not be accommodated by the current Jolley Bridge,” the study states. “Without an expansion of the bridge, users would have to modify the time they make their trip in order to avoid added delay, or have their time modified for them by waiting in queue.”
Most of the participants of February’s focus groups indicated that such delays are not problematic, however.
“I’ve been stuck in traffic jams for hours on the Long Island Expressway,” said one focus group participant. “There is no problem.”
But the study pointed out that the bridge was constructed in 1969, during an era of lower design standards, and is only anticipated to survive a 50-year storm event.
“A category 5 hurricane may render this structure unusable,” the report states.
Complicating matters, the high rating of 81 the bridge attained from a 2005 inspection was knocked down a notch in 2007.
The new sufficiency rating of 70 was assigned because of more advanced corrosion of steel and concrete on the upper part of the bridge and further deterioration of the base of the bridge. A rating of 50 is generally regarded as the threshold for major repair or replacement.