MARCY SHORTUSE - Three meetings were held this week by the Gasparilla Island Bridge Authority. Many things were discussed, such as higher tolls, higher taxes and personnel replacement.
It was a lot to process, and the bottom line was this: Everyone on the board, and in the audience of each meeting, was pretty confused.
Island residents can expect one of three scenarios in the coming months when it comes to crossing the Boca Grande Causeway: higher taxes; higher tolls; or both. The reason is a shortfall of $1.7 million per year to pay for new bridges until the year 2022.
On Tuesday, Jan. 10 the financing committee met. They disclosed their findings in a 36-page document that showed a $1.7 million shortage in revenue to cover the loan for the replacement bridges. The finance committee decided to recommend to the GIBA board that Bank of America be chosen for a short-term line of credit in the amount of $15 million for fixed bridge construction. They also decided to recommend that Executive Director Jim Cooper use existing funds in GIBA’s coffers in the amount of $1.25 million to pay off existing debt, and that alternatives for funding including ad valorem taxes and toll increases be presented to the GIBA board and the public.
Options included raising the full cash toll to $6 or $7 in October, and to decrease the amount that discount toll account-holders receive. An ad valorem tax increase in the amount of .5 per million could also be proposed, which would bring about an additional $1.6 million increase in revenue.
When the engineering committee met on Monday, they disclosed that their primary consultants, Tom Shaw from Kisinger, Campo & Associates Corp. and Mike Albano from DRMP had been terminated from the project. The reason for that was their gross underestimate of the replacement costs for the fixed bridges. While Shaw and Albano had anticipated a $10 million average bid, when the actual bids came in the lowest one was approximately $6 million more.
Julian Gutierrea from KCA will take Shaw’s place as the person who will oversee the design factor of the project. Paul Wingard of KCCS will oversee construction.Board members David Hayes and Ginger Watkins said at the beginning of Thursday’s meeting that they were uncomfortable, to say the least, with the fact that one company would be overseeing both aspects of the bridge replacement.
Executive Director Jim Cooper explained why they were retaining KCA in such a capacity. KCA, by the way, is the parent company of KCCS.
“Before we purchased the bridges in 1997 they were the company who helped us best figure out the state of the bridges, and how to keep the bridges maintained,” he said. “Later on, KCA helped when we expanded the toll plaza, they did the engineering plans for that. They’ve also been doing our bridge inspections this whole time, and they’ve been our engineers of record for 15 years. When you go into bond financing, you want consistency. It might raise a red flag to change the engineer of record right before bonds are issued.“
Finance Chairman Bill Holmberg agreed. “You need continuity just prior to this financing,” he said. “A report from the engineer of record is required to sell the bonds.”
One decision was solidified at the meeting, and that was to incorporate Wyoming railings, not Jersey barriers, into the fixed bridge project. The board had waffled back and forth between the two designs, and even though overwhelming opinion at public presentations last year was to go with the Wyoming rails, the board had recently considered going back to concrete Jersey barriers. The original reasoning for that was because the Jersey barriers are approximately $175,000 cheaper.
At Thursday’s meeting, though, Paul Wingard said it could actually be cheaper in the long run to go with Wyoming rails.
While Jersey barriers are cheaper, they afford little view over the water when crossing the bridge. Wyoming rails can be seen through, providing maximum water visualization.
Hayes made a motion to proceed with the Wyoming rail plan. Everyone on the board agreed, with the exception of board members Watkins and Dick Ryan.
Because of the timing of Thursday’s general meeting, the Beacon will continue on with this coverage in its entirety next week. Anyone interested in looking at any of the documents from that meeting, or any of the week’s other meetings, can stop by the Beacon office.
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