More than seven months after making an official request with the Lee County commission to reopen negotiations on bridge tolls, Cape Coral Councilman Kevin McGrail is still at it.
McGrail’s most recent letter to the chairman of the commission — Cecil Pendergrass, who took over for John Manning — was sent this month.
In previous responses to McGrail, Manning has asked for topics of discussion and proposed changes to an agreement between the city and county.
McGrail said he’s hopeful the 2012 commission shakeup , which saw Ray Judah ousted by voters and Brian Bigelow resign to run for another office, will result in a commission more amenable to start negotiations.
“I have great hopes in seeing some progress,” he said.
Along with other members of Council, he is calling for a 50/50 split of the excess revenues collected from the $2 tolls at the Midpoint Memorial and Cape Coral bridges. Currently, the take is divided 60/40, with the county receiving the lion’s share.
Historically, about $3 million a year is left after paying construction debts, maintenance costs and obligations. That amount will jump by $3.6 million in 2017, once more debts are paid off, McGrail said.
The excess revenues spike again in 2022 and finally in 2027, once the debt is paid off, he said.
At that point, the stakes will be even higher, and he’d like to start discussions now to avoid a potentially more recalcitrant commission down the line. “I think we need to lay the groundwork now, before it becomes hard dollars and then everyone pretty much hardens their position,” he said.
In addition to an equal split, he said he’s looking for an equal say in how the money is spent and in setting possible changes to the toll rate. He’s requesting creation of a committee made of members from both bodies to discuss the issues.
Whether the tolls remain in place once the debts are paid off is another question the city should help decide, he said.
“Obviously if … that future council in 2020 is going to keep collecting bridge tolls they better have a good explanation to the citizens,” he said.
Manning said he’s waiting for county staff to gather information on the issue before beginning negotiations.
Manning said he’s not sure at this point whether a 50/50 split is a realistic goal.
“We haven’t finished exchanging information yet, so I think we need to let it lie until, you know, we sit down with staff,” he said.
Philip Boller, who was the city’s first engineer and has been active on the toll issue for years, hopes the city and county can get their act together.
“It’s been my opinion from the beginning that it has been mishandled by both parties,” Boller said.
The city hasn’t watched the money carefully enough, the county kept the city in the dark and both failed to re-evaluate the agreement in 2010, as the document required, he said.
When all is said and done, he said he hopes the city will be able to use its slice of the tolls on its own needed road projects. “I hope I live long enough to see it resolved,” he said.