2017-03-16 / Island News

Beach toll passes may drop from $50 to $20/year

Escambia county hopes to improve traffic flow onto Pensacola Beach
By Pam Brannon
Gulf Breeze News © 2017

Escambia County commissioners voted unanimously last Thursday during their Committee of the Whole meeting to reduce the cost of the Annual Sun Pass for Pensacola Beach toll bridge from $50 a year to $20 a year. Commissioner Grover Robinson, who represents Pensacola Beach, made the motion and discussed the idea because he wants to drive up sales on Sun Passes and get drivers out of the cash lanes.

“Our back up out there is from the cash lanes, and we need to reduce that if we can,” he said.

David Forte, of the Escambia County staff and in charge of overseeing this toll plaza, told commissioners that there has been a big increase in toll booth use and traffic counts in the past year. The Sun Pass system was implemented in June 2016. it now costs $50 for residential annual passes through Sun Pass and $5 for residential homestead annual Sun Passes and $70 for a commercial Sun Pass.

Cash toll is still $1 per trip onto the beach, when using the bridge.

Pre-Sun Pass numbers include: toll booth users of 4,323,789 in 2013; with 3,996,428 users in 2014; 3,942,586 users in 2015; and from January to May 2016, before Sun Pass was installed, there were 1,575,010 travelers coming through the toll booth.

From June to December 2016, after Sun Pass was there, the toll booth registered 2,736,243 users.

So far for 2017, between January and Feb. 26, 2017 there have been 649,402 users of the toll plaza.

Annual passes this year, between January and Feb. 22, add up to 8,567, with the public holding 6,202 of those, and commercial annual passes at 804, and Homestead annual passes numbering 1561.

Commissioner Robinson said instead of the old system where everyone bought their annual passes on Jan. 1 each year, beginning with the Sun Pass sales the annual pass for each person expires a year from the date they purchased it.

“None of the Sun Pass annual passes expire until May this year,” Robinson told his fellow commissioners. “I would like to find a way to incentivize more people to buy the Sun Pass. What percentage are we at on Sun Passes, David?”

Forte said they were at about 35 percent of all tolls paid. But Robinson said that needed to be increased.

“We really need to be at about 50 percent. So I would like to offer an incentive to toll bridge users to buy an annual Sun Pass. I would like to reduce the cost of an annual Sun Pass from $50 to $20. Can we do that, beginning this May?”

Commissioner Steve Barry said that in some quick calculations it looked like that would be a hit to the county budget of about $25,000, “But I would be in favor of this,” Barry said.

Forte said even though commissioner voted 5-0 in favor of Robinson’s motion to reduce the cost to $20 a year, it would not be official until the commission passed a resolution, and that is expected to happen at this Thursday’s meeting (March 16).

If commissioners do pass that resolution, beginning May 1 annual Sun Passes will be $20 instead of $50 for the next year.

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