On the great swath of road known as Alligator Alley, a single fire station at mile marker 63 handles wrecks from Collier to Broward County.
But since the Department of Transportation opened the facility in 2014, there has been debate over who pays to keep the lights on.
A new bill (SB 72) filed by state Sen. Kathleen Passidomo seeks to make sure tolls charged on the Alley will cover the budget for the emergency responders there.
“They have raised the toll for Alligator Alley to $3.25, and that’s meant to maintain the roadway,” Passidomo said. “There is plenty of money to do what needs to be done as far as maintaining the road and that station.”
Passidomo seeks a permanent end to the question of who foots the bill for the only fire station in Florida that serves a major road but doesn’t have a tax base of property owners.
DOT opened a new public safety center at Mile Marker 63 back in 2014 as part of an $8.8 million project replacing a rest area structure there.
And it provides an important service. Before the station opened, crashes on the Collier County end of the Alley required trucks to dispatch from Everglades City or Golden Gate, which could require as much as a 45-minute drive to reach a scene in which seconds can mean life or death.
Greater Naples Fire Rescue in 2017 agreed to take over staffing for the station.
But Passidomo says it makes no sense for Collier County taxpayers to completely foot the $2 million annual budget for the facility when just 12 percent of wrecks being handled by the station involves Collier County residents.
The Naples Republican says she has received pushback from state transportation officials about whether funding this fire station will set a bad precedent in the future. Passidomo said that’s not a concern, because this is the only station in a remotely similar situation.
As things stand now, excess toll revenues on Alligator Alley fund water management districts, which doesn’t make any sense compared to paying the bills for a fire station that exists only to serve the Alley, she said.
“There is no other fire station on any state or federal road in the state of Florida that has no neighbors,” she said. “It’s just alligators.”