BRADENTON, Fla. — The Santa Rosa Bay Bridge Authority in northwest Florida, which has been in default on toll revenue bonds since July 2011, agreed to have a traffic study done.
The bridge authority's board voted to engage a traffic consultant at its Aug. 14 meeting, agreeing that half of the cost will be paid by the Florida Department of Transportation and half of the cost will be funded from revenues held by the trustee, Bank of New York Mellon.
The traffic consultant will be recommended by FTI Consulting, the firm hired by BNY Mellon to act as financial advisor, according to a June 13 letter from attorney Warren Bloom at Greenberg Traurig LLP. Greenberg has been hired to represent the trustee.
A representative from the Florida Turnpike Enterprise told the SRBBA board members that the turnpike would assist in reviewing the scope of services to be performed by the traffic consultant. Ultimately, the study will determine if toll rates are sufficient to cover debt service expenses, the representative said.
The bridge authority board also discussed the fact the trustee had not responded to their written request asking that the trustee pay for a financial audit. The board asked an attorney from Greenberg Traurig monitoring the meeting to inquire about their request.
There was discussion that the audits need to be up to date if it is decided to refinance the authority's bonds.
It is not clear when the Bridge Authority actually had its last audit. None have been filed with the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board's EMMA system, which began collecting financials and disclosures since around mid-2009.
An operational audit of the SRBBA done by the Florida Auditor General's office in November 2008 said that the authority's financial statements for fiscal year 1997 were audited by a certified public accounting firm.
BNY Mellon earlier this year declared the principal of the outstanding bonds, $131.2 million, to be due and immediately payable.
The authority sold bonds in 1996 to build the Garcon Point toll road in northwest Florida. It never met traffic projections and reserves were used to help make debt-service payments until the first payment default occurred in July 2011.
The bonds received low investment grade ratings, which slipped to junk levels over the years. All three major rating agencies have now withdrawn their ratings on the SRBBA bonds.