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Treasure Island OKs study on Causeway tolls
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Photo courtesy of CITY OF TREASURE ISLAND
Maintenance on the Treasure Island Causeway bridge is projected to cost the city $22.4 million over the next 15 years.
TREASURE ISLAND – After more than 90 minutes of discussion, city commissioners voted 3-2 on April 4 to pass a resolution that authorizes the first phase of a study on the possibility of returning tolls to the Treasure Island Causeway.

Commissioners Ken Keys and Deborah Toth, and Mayor Bob Minning, voted for the measure while commissioners Ralph Kennedy and Larry Lunn voted against it.

Cost of the 8-month first phase is $295,107. It will be headed by Atkins North America Inc., the primary consultant for the state of Florida’s Sun Pass program and a number of other toll projects around the state.

Members of the Atkins team are CDM Smith, a Tampa-based engineering and construction company that will provide an analysis of traffic and financial needs; Quest Corporation of America, a Tampa-based public relations firm that will provide public engagement mailings, a project website and run engagement meetings; National Data and Surveying Services of Alpharetta, Ga., which will provide a matrix on traffic flows; and the law firm of Bryant Miller Olive, for any legal questions.

The overall goal of Phase 1A is to provide a long-term financial plan for maintenance to the causeway and its three bridges, which is projected to cost the city $22.4 million over the next 15 years.

“We have expenses over the next 15 years that we cannot currently afford,” said City Manager Reid Silverboard.

Part of the city’s strategy is to sell the segment east of the eastern-most bridge to the city of St. Petersburg. But to do so, Treasure Island must make $1.5 million in repairs. A bill in the Florida Legislature, sponsored by State Sen. Jeff Brandes, would finance it. The remainder of the causeway, it is hoped, could be sold to the Florida Department of Transportation once a revenue source is established.

The alternative to tolling is a property tax increase to Treasure Island residents, amounting to an additional .4 mill per year or $120 annually on a home with an assessed value of $300,000.

As the vote indicates, passing of the first phase did not come easy.

“We’ve kicked this down the road enough,” said Minning. “If you have any other ideas, bring them.”

Even though the city received yet another legal opinion reiterating a previous legal opinion that said it was fine to move forward with tolling, Lunn remained concerned that federal authorities might come back with some form of legal action against the city.

Lunn’s concern stems from the original “handshake” agreement with the late Sen. Bill Young, which provided the city with $50 million in U.S. Department of Transportation funds for the bridges 12 years ago. Part of the agreement was that tolling would not return to the causeway.

“I believe in this whole thing, as long as it’s not objected to by the Federal Highway Administration,” said Lunn.

Kennedy said he preferred to wait until a replacement for Silverboard, who will resign effective May 8, can be found and put in place. Finding a new city manager is expected to take four to six months.

Minning called such a move “kicking the can down the road more.”

Keys noted that he ran for office “on not wanting tolls or a tax increase.

“However, there’s something to be said for user fees,” he said. “I would like to see what this study says and get to the nitty-gritty of what our residents feel.”

Keys also wondered if the study could be piece-mealed with the city paying only for the work by Quest and National Data first, before moving ahead with the other components.

“You can pay for whatever you use,” said Silverboard. “You can cut it off at any point.”

After Phase 1A is complete, commissioners will vote on whether or not to select tolling as a funding alternative. If it is, the next phase of the study would focus on toll fees, cost of toll collection structures, electronic and/or manual collection and possible passes for local residents. The entire process is expected to take a minimum of two years to complete.

In other action, commissioners:

• Agreed to conduct an in-house search for a new city manager, headed by Human Resources Director Jennifer Poirrier. The city will advertise for the position in newsletters of the Florida City and County Management Association, International City/County Management Association and Florida League of Cities.

• Approved $15,800 to Master Consulting Engineers Inc., for the preparation of bid documents for the repair of the Beach Trail.

• Approved a 4.5-year contract for $1.414 million with Republic Services of Florida for recycling collection service.

• Moved the city’s first meeting in July to Wednesday, July 5. There will not be a second meeting in July.

• Approved using merchant services from Elavon to process credit card payments for parking through parking meters and pay stations.

• Appointed Keys as the city’s primary representative to the Suncoast League of Cities. Lunn will be the alternate.

• Appointed Toth as the city’s rep to the board of directors of the Gulf Beaches Public Library.

• Appointed Minning as the city rep to the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council. Lunn will be the alternate.

• Appointed Minning as the city’s delegate to the Barrier Islands Governmental Council. Kennedy will be the alternate.

• Appointed Lunn to the city’s Beach Stewardship Committee. Toth will be the alternate.
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