One way to evaluate the proposed Pinellas Bayway toll increases is to apply them to a minimum-wage worker. It would take more than 30 minutes on the job just to pay for a visit to Fort DeSoto Park. Lawmakers need to consider the impact such a large toll increase would have on the workers, shoppers and residents who have no reasonable alternative route to the southern tip of Pinellas County.
No doubt the state needs to raise money to replace the Bayway's decrepit bridges — $180-million by Department of Transportation estimates. In any realistic scenario, higher tolls will probably have to account for some of that cost. But the state needs to clean up its own act before it asks motorists to pay so much more. On July 1, DOT wants to bump the St. Pete Beach toll by 150 percent, from 50 cents to $1.25; and the Fort DeSoto toll by more than 600 percent, from 35 cents to $2.50.
Maybe a wealthy condo owner wouldn't notice the hit, but many people would who use the Bayway to get to work, shopping or an inexpensive day at the beach. Annual passes could be purchased for $125, but that is a lot of money for many people. Businesses that rely on Bayway traffic also should be concerned about the tolls.
Meanwhile, DOT has raided the current toll fund of $18-million for another road project. Local legislators should refuse to promote the toll legislation until the DOT pays back the fund with interest and comes up with additional revenue sources.
It might be appropriate to raise Bayway tolls a bit, but to try to soak captive motorists with a painful increase to make up for poor state planning is unconscionable.