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Commentary, sarcasm and snide remarks from a Florida resident of over thirty years. Being a glutton for punishment is a requirement for residency here. Who am I? I've been called a moonbat by Michelle Malkin, a Right Wing Nut by Daily Kos, and middle of the road by Florida blog State of Sunshine. Tell me what you think.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Your Florida Tax Dollars at work- Toll plaza cost goes from 8 million to 21 million

I know these estimates never come in at their original price but an over 250% difference? The Lee County officials saying there is no waste in the project doesn't persuade me either. When is our government ever efficent?

When the cost of building the new Sanibel toll plaza jumped to nearly $21 million from its initial $8 million estimate, it may have evoked visions in taxpayers' minds of marble floors and gold-plated fixtures.

Lee County transportation officials said there are several reasons for the increase, but bureaucratic waste or fraud isn't one of them.

Of the $20.96 million, only about $6 million is for construction of the toll building. The rest is for road work, traffic maintenance, management costs, contingency money, and an unrelated boat ramp project that won't be paid with toll proceeds. When the total job was estimated at $8 million more than a year ago, the toll building cost was $4 million.

The new toll plaza is part of a more than $120 million project to rebuild the Sanibel Causeway, the only way on and off the island, with the plaza being bid separately from the bridge.

The cost jump came mainly from construction cost increases and the fact other projects were added in that weren't in the initial $8 million estimate, said Paul Wingard, project manager for the Sanibel bridge reconstruction.

This surprise in cost not only means borrowing more money, it will cause reduction of the $6 cash toll on Sanibel bridge to be delayed by two years to cover the extra expense of the toll plaza.

The county will pay for it by pushing back the cash-toll change from $6 to $5 until 2011-12. It would have gone into effect in 2009-10. The discount-toll reduction, for those for buy an annual pass, will not change. It is set to be reduced from $3 to $2 on Nov. 1.


From the time when initial costs are estimated for a job to when it goes to bid, cost changes are common. But the kind of increase that came with this job is very telling of the current climate for building costs, Wingard said.

"That kind of increase is very abnormal," Wingard said. "What we have been experiencing in the past two years (in the construction industry) is very abnormal."

The cost jump was partly because several projects lumped into the $21 million figure weren't included in the initial $8 million figure. Add-ons such as contractor fees, a retention pond, sea wall construction, and an unrelated project to revamp the parking area at the Punta Rassa boat ramp, weren't considered in the first estimate.

Contractor fees weren't initially included because the county had not planned to hire a construction manager and had anticipated bidding every aspect of the job in-house.

Because of deterioration of the bridges and the controversy surrounding them, transportation officials later decided to go with a construction manager to speed up construction, said Amy Davies, transportation program manager for Lee County Department of Transportation. A construction manager personally bids all subcontracts.

But the drastic price jump is attributed mostly to sharp construction cost increases in the last year, material shortages across the country, and — with private development booming in Lee County — a huge demand for local construction labor, Wingard said.

When Jack Fenwick heard of the price difference, he believed "going from $4 million to $6 million is a pretty sizeable jump, but it's certainly not unheard of.

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