The storied Card Sound Bridge is an old, tall, toll bridge that connects mainland Florida to Monroe County. It is one of only two roads enter or leave the Florida Keys (the other is the Overseas Highway, U.S. Route 1) and the only one that costs cash.
The bridge carries 1,900 vehicles per day at a varying toll, nominally $1 but with an upcharge for more than two axles and discount to as little as a quarter with a ticket book. The toll is waived upon evacuating the Keys for hurricanes or in instances in which US 1 is impassable.
Guesstimating that all the tolls average out to a buck, the Card Sound Toll Authority collects about $700,000 annually to operate the toll booth, maintain the toll facilities and grounds, and mow and cut the brush on the right of way along Card Sound Road.
According to County Administrator Roman Gastesi’s Budget Message, “The Card Sound Toll Authority is responsible for operating the toll booth 24 hours per day/7 days a week, maintaining the toll facilities and grounds, and right-of-way mowing and brush cutting along Card Sound Road. Revenues from the tolls are reserved for maintenance of the Card Sound Bridge and road. The Toll Authority is now a part of the Engineering Services & Roads Department.”
Monroe County budgeted $3,448,648 for the Card Sound Toll Authority this year. That’s up 110.8% from the $1,635,705 budgeted in FY2016.
[For the record, $3,448,648 for one road is nearly twice the total municipal budget for the Town of North Puffin including the entire highway department there.]
A $2 million plus project to convert the toll booths there into an automated “Sunpass” system could break ground as soon as August 1. The Monroe County Commission has approved a $1.79 million construction contract plus an engineering contract for $263,700 more.
The toll booth staff will be fired July 31 and the toll booths could be demolished the next day. No tolls will be collected during reconstruction, until the system becomes active next February. The “All Electronic Tolling System” will connect to the Sunpass to collect tolls through those transponders or toll-by-plate.
Money collected at Card Sound allegedly goes toward maintenance of the aging 65-foot-high bridge and adjacent roads. Tolls have been $1 per vehicle for decades but “the electronic tolling could make price increases easier to implement.”
How hard is it to tell the toll collector, “Charge $1.25”???
Liz Arden reminded me, “When people handle money, they notice increases in price. When they don’t handle it, they don’t notice it. That is what ‘easier to implement’ means in this context.”
More telling is the price of this particular boondoggle. If the toll authority collects $700,000 and spends about five times that much annually, how are We the Overtaxed People going to pay off the $2 million “upgrade”?
KEY LARGO, March 26, 2018–Most vehicles will pay $1.50 tolls electronically beginning June 2, 2018.
The new rate is $1.50 for a two-axle vehicle. Larger trucks and other multi-axle vehicles will pay $1 per axle.
County staff recommended a $2 toll for two-wheel vehicles (they needed “to generate more money”). County staff also suggested raising the annual pass fee to $480 from the current rate of $285. (Commissioners did agree to lower the annual pass rate to $360 — they suggested that Ocean Reef employers raise worker salaries to cover the difference.)
The new electronic-tolling system also will allow commissioners to raise district tolls at will.