An issue for next year’s Legislative Session was decided Wednesday at a toll plaza in Milton when Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a new deal to lower toll prices for a Pensacola bridge. That deal will require approval from the Legislature.
DeSantis, standing in front of toll booths one mile north of Garcon Point Bridge, announced he’s using his authority as Governor to lower toll rates for the bridge, and he’s directing the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to purchase the bridge to offset the costs.
More than 6,000 drivers use Garcon Point Bridge each day, DeSantis said.
The toll rates will change from $4.50 to $2.30 for SunPass customers and from $5 to $2.75 for cash customers.
“Think about it: Someone makes $10 an hour. That’s one hour of their day just to pay to go do the transportation,” DeSantis said.
The bridge is currently owned by trustee and bondholders. If FDOT successfully purchases the bridge, control would transfer to Florida’s Turnpike Enterprises. But that deal will require new laws, which means members of the Legislature will have to approve them during the 2022 Session.
Santa Rosa Rep. Jayer Williamson seemed likely to support any legislation surrounding the new toll prices.
“I tell people all the time, it’s so good and refreshing to have a Governor that can find Northwest Florida on a map,” Williamson said.
“And not only can you find it on a map, but also through his policy decisions and his budget proposals, he shows that the Panhandle and Northwest Florida is a priority and he has a commitment to this area. It has not always been that way,” Williamson added.
Secretary of Transportation Kevin Thibault said the new rate structure will take effect “in the next couple weeks.”
“There are several steps that the department is going to take to make sure that we effectuate really a smooth transition to reduce the toll rates and pursue the ultimate purchase of this bridge,” Thibault said.
Thibault said negotiations with bond holders over the sale of the bridge would take place concurrent with other first steps like updating signage around the tolls to reflect the new rates and reprograming SunPass computers with the new rates.
Tolls had been suspended on the Garcon Point Bridge after Hurricane Sally hit the area in Sept. 18, 2020, because another Pensacola bridge, Pensacola Bay Bridge, was unusable after suffering significant hurricane damage, so traffic was diverted to Garcon Point Bridge. But FDOT announced in June repairs to the Pensacola Bay Bridge had advanced enough to allow a few lanes to reopen for traffic. Toll charges were reinstated on the Garcon Point Bridge on June 20.