Crews work on Card Sound Bridge. WEEKLY FILE PHOTO

Tolls are increasing for motorists driving in and out of the Florida Keys via Card Sound Road, an alternate route to the 18-Mile Stretch,.

County officials are revising an ordinance to increase toll rates at the Card Sound Road Bridge heading into Monroe County by the consumer price index of 8.5%. With Sunpass, the rate for a 2-axle vehicle will increase from 80 cents to 87 cents, while the rate for a 3-axle or greater will go from $1.05 to $1.14 per axle. Each additional axle will increase from $1.05 to $1.14. 

With increased administrative costs for collecting and processing toll-by-plate transactions, a toll-by-plate, 2-axle rate will be established at $1.31 per axle, the 3-axle will be established at $1.71 and each additional axle will be $1.71. 

County officials say an aging Card Sound Bridge will eventually need to be replaced. Per a 2014 bridge assessment report, the bridge should be replaced in 2030. The estimated price tag at that time was $32 million. 

Monroe County is hoping to secure $1.8 million in federal funds for planning, design and engineering for the bridge replacement project. It’s one of 26 bridges the county maintains and one of two evacuation routes from the Florida Keys to the mainland.   

Constructed in 1969, Card Sound Bridge is scheduled for replacement to ensure the route’s safety. Card Sound Road, which starts in Florida City and ends in North Key Largo, is used by Ocean Reef Club workers and motorists who avert heavy traffic on the 18-Mile Stretch during weekends. 

During a recent meeting of the Monroe Board of County Commissioners, new County Commissioner Jim Scholl said officials should consider raising the toll by a dollar. 

“I don’t think it’s onerous to me, but I don’t use that bridge all the time,” he said. “I’m concerned that’s going to be an expensive project.”

Assistant County Administrator Kevin Wilson told commissioners to consider raising the tolls “significantly.”

“I thought we should go 200 or 300% of the rate at the time,” he said, adding that a plan was brought before county commissioners to raise tolls to fund a portion of the bridge project. 

Mayor David Rice said it seemed odd that the county’s raising a few bucks on the toll when it’s been known for 30 years that the bridge would need to be replaced.

“I can assure you we’ll never raise money in this period of time to pay for the bridge,” he said. 

A public hearing on the proposed toll rate increases was held June 16. Rate hikes will take effect Oct. 1. 

Two discount programs are available to Monroe County residents with two-axle vehicles that use SunPass and have an account in good standing. One is a monthly rebate program for frequent users who drive two-axle vehicles. Those who make at least 28 one-way trips through the toll automatically receive a 40% rebate on their Sunpass accounts after any calendar month. The annual pass program beginning last January allows drivers of two-axle vehicles unlimited trips through the toll facility for a year. People must purchase a Sunpass transponder, open an account, sign up for the program with the Card Sound Toll Authority and pay a fee of $385. 

Discount programs do not apply to vehicles towing a boat or trailer. Accounts will be charged $1.05 per axle for any vehicle going through the toll with three axles or more, even if people have an annual pass. Trips made through the toll with three axles or more will not count toward the rebate program.

In 1989, the toll on Card Sound Road had a 50-cent per-axle cost. The rate stayed in place for decades with the exception of a three-year period from 1992-95 when it was 75 cents per axle. In 1964, the original toll was 50 cents per car. In 2017, the toll went completely electronic.

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Jim McCarthy is a Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 3-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, mixed martial arts and golf. He loves to hit the links and play some softball with his Make A Play team. He also enjoys time with family (he's expecting a little boy in October).