Friday, September 21, 2018
News Roundup

Treasure Island searching for loophole to reinstate toll on causeway

TREASURE ISLAND — Faced with millions of dollars in future repair and ongoing maintenance costs on the Causeway Bridge and the roadway leading to it, the City Commission is pursuing a dual strategy it hopes will reduce if not eliminate many of those costs.

The commission on Tuesday approved spending $65,100 for a legal opinion it hopes will persuade the Federal Highway Administration to allow the city to reinstate tolls on the Causeway.

The city's administration is also negotiating a joint project with St. Petersburg officials to share maintenance costs and perhaps even transfer ownership of the Causeway itself.

Without some agreement with St. Petersburg or the ability to reinstate tolls on the Causeway, Treasure Island officials say property taxes would have to be increased.

The city previously charged vehicles a toll to cross the Causeway Bridge until 2007 when federal funds financed building a new bridge.

The problem is that when the city accepted the $50 million in federal money, it pledged to maintain the bridge without reinstating a toll. Accepting the money also converted the bridge and causeway to a "toll-free non-interstate Federal-aid facility" under federal law.

The Federal Highway Administration has already notified the city that reinstating a toll on the Causeway would be difficult, if not impossible.

"It does not appear that the Causeway Boulevard would qualify under any of these programs," Cynthia Essenmacher, the administration's federal tolling program manager, wrote to the city in August.

The only exceptions that might allow Treasure Island to put in a toll involve rebuilding or replacing the bridge or roadway or adding new lanes.

Thornton Williams, whose firm is experienced with state toll roads, will now research the issue and write a legal opinion that the city hopes will change the Federal Highway Administration's mind.

Meanwhile, the city was awarded a $1.2 million state grant to reconstruct the east end of the Causeway, including road resurfacing, drainage improvements and possible installation of a bike trail on the roadway's north side.

The project is supposed to be a joint venture with St. Petersburg, but that city doesn't want its residents living in Causeway Isles and Yacht Club Estates to pay a toll to get to and from their homes.

St. Petersburg also received state money to help fund its portion of the project, but wants Treasure Island to cover a projected $300,000 shortfall in the project costs.

Treasure Island commissioners made it clear Tuesday that they don't like that idea.

But they do want St. Petersburg to take over ongoing maintenance of the Causeway in the future, with one of the options being deeding the Causeway to St. Petersburg to accomplish that.

"Getting rid of it (the east Causeway) takes away a great liability," said Commissioner Larry Lunn.

Editor's note: — This article was changed to reflect the following clarification: Although Treasure Island is negotiating with St. Petersburg for that city to take over maintenance of the East Causeway in the future, deeding ownership of the roadway to St. Petersburg is only one option to accomplish that goal. An article Oct. 6 was unclear on the City Commission's position.

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