While searching for alternatives to manage these tolls, the reduction of traffic and improvement of the safety in the State highways, the transparency, and responsibility around them is still the most important factor to care for.
By: Edda Pujadas
If you live in Miami Dade County, it is very probable that within your daily journey you have to use one of these five highways: SR 836 – Dolphin Expressway, SR 874 – Don Shula Expressway, SR 924 – Gratigny Parkway, SR 878 – Snapper Creek Expressway and SR 112 Airport Expressway and for this reason your annual expense on tolls is between $700 and $800 dollars.
This is one of the reasons for which two South Florida Representatives, Bryan Avila, and Manny Diaz Jr., are promoting a House Bill whose intention is to dissolve the Miami Dade Express Authority and have the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) take over the management of these highways.
Once under the management of the FDOT, the State of Florida will still charge these tolls to cover the expenses of the projects that are actually in progress. These tolls also cover for the debts that are already in the books, but Avila assures that the final goal is to eventually eliminate the tolls of these highways.
We need to remember that in 2017, Jeanette Nuñez, current Lieutenant Governor of Florida and other Republicans from Miami had already approved a piece of legislation that forced the MDX to reduce the tolls in 6%. At that time the toll authority ignored the mandate, citing some legal issues. When Nuñez followed up on this item last year, the MDX accepted to go ahead with the toll reduction.
Those in favor of the MDX reject this proposal given that, the toll system will still prevail, but the Miami Dade drivers will not be necessarily the beneficiaries of the funds that are currently used for the maintenance and improvements of the highways. If these funds are administered by the FDOT, they could be used in any region in Florida.
Many contractors also support the existence of the MDX because it is important to give continuity to the financing of extensive road projects by using the income generated by the tolls of these five highways. This point is supported by Carlos Gimenez, Mayor of Miami Dade and who also serves as the designated President of the MDX. He assures that one of the first victims of the proposed legislation will probably be the extension of the SR 836 going West of Kendall, and this is a priority to help alleviate the traffic to and from that area.
Mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez recognizes that he is not in agreement with some of the decisions of the MDX, especially because the cost of the tolls has increased the traffic in our city. “In order to avoid the tolls, the drivers use our roadways in Doral and do not use the highways.”
“However, this is not an easy decision. If the control of the highways is transferred to the FDOT, the funds collected on the tolls and that are for the use of these highways in Miami Dade could be invested in any area of the State and not necessarily in South Florida,” explains Mayor Bermudez.
Bermudez adds that some of the important points to be evaluated in this proposed legislation are, where are those funds going to be allocated? How are the highways going to be maintained? How are the necessary expansions to alleviate traffic going to be built? How is the impact caused by the trucks going to and from the airport and the port of Miami going to be mitigated?
“It is important to review how is MDX taking decisions about the costs of the tolls, but I would not like that the income that is generated here, will go to any other region in the State. It is necessary to make reforms that are carefully analyzed, as of now the people are only saying that the tolls are going to be eliminated and that is not necessarily true.”
Recently, the Board of Directors of the MDX approved certain measures destined to reduce the violent reactions towards the tolls. One of them was to activate a new reimbursement program for users, but they increased the previous amount of $100 to $250 paid in tolls per year.
MDX deactivated the previous program after the decrease in the toll collection required by the State under the argument that with less income due to tolls there was no cash to pay for the reimbursements at the end of 2018. Even when the program was reinstated, the amount to qualify now is much higher than the original $100 stated in the previous reimbursement program that was offered by the toll authority.
The program that was approved this week means a reimbursement to many of the toll system users of 15%, this will be mailed out in a check in the Fall of 2019. It is expected that around 30% of the 1.4 million monthly toll payers of the MDX will be eligible for this benefit.
The users that were benefitted by the previous reimbursement program are automatically registered for this new one, while the new users can start registering through the MDX webpage: mdxway.com, starting on February 14th and until April 17th of 2019. The first annual period goes from July 1st, 2018 to June 30th, 2019.
MDX advocates point out that the income due to tolls is reinvested in the community and help finance the construction of projects that help alleviate the traffic, that these allow to keep on with the maintenance, modernization, and expansion of these five highways that generate local jobs and bring new business opportunities and growth to small and local businesses.
Let us remember that in 1994, Miami Dade County approved the creation of the MDX and by 1996, the toll authority issued $80 million dollars in income bonds from the toll system, to provide for enough funds to pay the $91.3 million balance that cost our County to get the operative and financial control of the five FDOT highways, for this reason these assets belong and are reinvested exclusively in Miami Dade and not in the whole State of Florida.
Today, the infrastructure of MDX must satisfy the requirements of 3 million residents, 1.9 million drivers with driver licenses, 181,436 daily passengers from Broward and Palm Beach, 15.4 million annual visitors, the MIA – one of the busiest airports in the world – and the Port of Miami – one of the busiest cargo and cruise ports in the South East of the United States and with a new billion dollar tunnel that carries cargo containers from SR836 directly to the Port.