SUNRISE BEACH - Visitors and residents who use the Lake of the Ozarks Community Bridge to get to their destinations are used to paying a toll. But this year, it became clear that the original repayment plan for the $43 million dollars it cost for construction, development and maintenance of the bridge was not going to work out.
When the bridge was dedicated on May 1, 1998, the Lake of the Ozarks Community Bridge Corporation planned to have the bridge paid off in 2026. But once Highway 5 was improved, traffic on the toll bridge dropped 15 percent according to the corporation. And once the recession hit, principal and interest weren't possible to pay off without dipping into reserve funds. So in June, the corporation came together to reassess a plan that would accommodate the bridge and current conditions.
"Well, with the restructuring, we have a reset. We have 30-year bonds, so the bonds are scheduled to be paid off in 2042. That's 30 years from 2012, and we should be safely above break even and even able to rebuild some of the reserve funds," said Lake of the Ozarks Corporation Treasurer Joe Roeger.
And rebuilding the reserve funding is necessary for the new plan's longevity and success.
"We've probably burned through $6 million in reserve funds, and if we have another economic downturn we need to have some reserve funds in hand," said Roeger.
With the new restructure, officials say there would not be any more fare increases, something toll payers are happy about.
"I wish there wasn't a toll, but it's a privately-owned bridge and the debt has to be paid for," said one Sunrise Beach resident.
In 2010 there was a 50 cent toll increase. It brought prices up from $2.50 for a car, van or motorcycle to $3 during the summer season, which lasts from April 1- October 31.
The bridge was originally built to connect the east and west side of the lake, giving it its title of the "Community Bridge." And there was hope that it would help stimulate development on the west side, that had already been booming on the east side of the lake for years. So far, supporters said the bridge has made noticeable progress.
"Before the bridge was built, the assessed valuation of the Sunrise Beach Fire Protection District was roughly $80 million. In 2010, the assessed valuation of that same district was over $300 million. So that's just one indicator of the impact on the local economy of the community bridge," said Roeger.
Once the bridge is paid off, it will become property of the Missouri Department of Transportation and become a toll-free bridge.