Broxson legislation aimed to resolve bridge issues

Posted on January 3, 2018 by Romi White

Senator Doug Broxson this week filed legislation which would allow the Florida Department of Transportation to begin negotiating state purchase of Garcon Point Bridge from private bondholders, who in 1992 funded its roughly $95 million construction.

The measure could save the state from a potential costly and lengthy legal battle should the bondholders’ trustee try to compel FDOT to further increase the current $3.75 toll structure on the roughly 3.5-mile span – a move which was attempted but blocked in March 2015 after revenues fell short of projections, causing a July 2011 default on payments.

“In 2015, the trustee for the bondholders gave notice to FDOT of their intent to increase the toll to $5. It was at this point that we appealed to Governor Scott to intervene and prevent the toll increase. While we successfully stopped the increase, the fact is that until the state has control of the bridge we cannot prevent the toll from increasing long term,” Broxson said via press release.

Per the study, restructuring the bridge debt, which rose to $135.2 million in 2017 due to increased interest rates, could take place two ways – both of which require legislative action.

The first option would be issuance of replacement bonds at a lower interest rate — in exchange for transfer of the bridge to a state authority. The debt would be extended over a longer period of time, allowing for a reduction in annual debt service payments to an amount which can be paid by actual toll revenues. The second option would be to make an offer to acquire the bridge by purchasing the current bonds at a discount.

Broxson said actual toll revenues would be sufficient to cover the new bonds change. “According to the study, there is enough revenue to support an offer equal to the value of the revenue,” he said.

If SB 1436 and its companion house bill, which is planned to be sponsored by Representative Jayer Williamson, are approved during the upcoming 60-day session, which starts January 9, FDOT and other state agencies could begin price and term negotiations. If successful, new bonds would be issued to fund the purchase.

Santa Rosa County District 5 Commissioner Lane Lynchard weighed in on the proposed legislation, stating “Our local delegation has been steadfast in their search for solutions to the problems that plague the Garcon Point Bridge. Representative Williamson and Senator Broxson have been working hard to protect the taxpayers of Santa Rosa County and the state, as well as the people who use the bridge. The completion of this study is hopefully another step towards a long term answer for the Garcon Point Bridge.”

The feasibility report included multiple funding scenarios for a potential purchase, ranging from $75.6 to $98.3 million.

“The intent of SB 1436 is to create certainty for the future operation of this valuable hurricane evacuation route and North/South artery through Santa Rosa County,” Broxson said, adding, “As the recently published report confirms, this is not a bailout.”

Broxson said Garcon Point Bridge has become an “impediment to travel and commerce in Santa Rosa County” due to its costly toll rate. “However, SB 1436 may allow the state of Florida to finally take control of the bridge and help turn it into an asset for our community.”