Amidst all the talk of abolishing the Department of Community Affairs and other state agencies during this budget crisis, some strange new ideas are brewing in the halls of government. There’s talk of an additional state tax of $0.62 per pack of cigarettes on top of the recent federal tobacco tax to fund the SCHIP program. The County Commission decided 4-1 to keep all the Constitutional Gas Tax for their projects and hold up four middle fingers to the residents of Keys cities (Commissioner Mario DiGennaro was the only voice of reason). And Keys schools face even further cuts from the state as they reel from tens of thousands of dollars (allegedly) stolen locally. (At least it wasn’t stolen by out-of-towners!)
A new government fund-raising idea has come forth that has left even us jaded Keys Disease staffers wide-eyed in disbelief. Some are already calling it the Sunset Tax, the Foot Fee, the Bicycle Bilking, the Sneaker Snatch, or the Thom McAn Toll. While there are plenty of toll bridges around the nation, the Old Seven Mile Bridge may become the first ever pedestrian-only toll bridge.
DOT District Chief Les Paygo announced this idea months ago at a traffic seminar in Miami-Dade County. (This was the same seminar that gave drivers in South Florida on-ramp stoplights, Sunpass-only highways, and steep rush hour tolls.) In the midst of all the hoopla over the other lame ideas, the Old Seven Mile Bridge announcement was lost in the shuffle. Until now.
I called Paygo at his office overlooking the Turnpike, and he told me that he did not want to go on record. Off the record, he told me that since the Old Seven Mile Bridge was such a popular pedestrian bridge overlooking beautiful tropical waters and incomparable sunsets, the state had to put a price on the natural beauty. What follows in Paygo’s off-the-record explanation of the upcoming charges.
There will be a parking fee of $5.00 per axle for any vehicle using the parking facilities near the bridge. This fee will also apply to bicycles, even if the bicycles will be used to ride across the bridge. This means that cars and bicycles will each pay a $10.00 minimum charge.
The bridge will soon be outfitted with pedestrian gates that will only open after the proper toll has been paid. The bridge walker (or rider) will stand on a scale that will measure the weight of the walker as well as any bicycle or dog or fishing tackle (or beer) that accompanies the walker. After the toll (initially set at $1.00 for every ten pounds) is paid, the gate will open just long enough to allow passage to you and your dog or bicycle. Because of the cost of these specialized gates, the DOT only has one budgeted for installation during the first year of the pedestrian toll program.
A one-way turnstile will allow walkers to exit the bridge. This turnstile will be equipped with a fish scanner to ensure that all caught fish meet the current weight, slot, and catch limits for each applicable species. Citations will be instantly printed and issued for fishing law violations.
Before this happens and the tollgates are put into place, the DOT is accepting public comment via telephone. This public comment will be noted and transcribed for the unelected officials and bureaucrats in Miami and Tallahassee who will be making these decisions. That local hotline number is 743-4248. If you think that this is one of the more stupid government ideas you’ve heard, give the number a call and let the DOT know how you feel. Maybe there’s still time to stop this from happening before this column gives anyone any ideas.