Roll Back Tolls representatives once again went before the Miami-Dade County Commission late last month to express the community’s growing concern about the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (MDX) and rising cost of driving a vehicle on county expressways.
The MDX has slated a 50 percent toll-rate hike to go into effect in 2014 on the 836 Dolphin and 112 Airport expressways.
The MDX has scheduled a public hearing during its March 19 board meeting at 4 p.m. in the MDX offices. Roll Back Tolls, a grass roots organization of concerned citizens, is asking for a freeze on all toll-rate hikes and no additional assignment of county projects until a full review of the MDX and its actions has been conducted.
Recent talk about assigning control of the Miami Intermodal Center (MIC) to MDX has only served to anger many tollweary Miami-Dade residents. Many feel there is a disconnect between MDX and the community, as middle class families continue to struggle to recover from the worst recession in recent history and worry about how Washington politics will translate to local economies. Meanwhile, Miami- Dade expressway toll rates continue to rise dramatically and MDX officials say they want to tie future tolling to the Consumer Price Index, thus ensuring continued regular expressway toll rate hikes.
The MDX currently carries about $2.5 billion in debt and intends to add more with additional bond issues planned for 2014. In 2005, MDX collected $58.6 million in toll revenue, while in 2012 that figure soared to about $122.5 million. The advent of openroad tolling (ORT) has directly connected the MDX to the Miami-Dade taxpayers’ wallets via their Sun Pass accounts. And while MDX refuses to acknowledge that expressway tolls are taxes, the reality is that residents do not agree.
In 2014, the 836 Dolphin Expressway will become a closed system, meaning that all motorists entering and leaving that expressway will have to pay a toll, thus increasing overall toll-capture by 45 percent. In spite of that, an additional 50 percent toll increase will skyrocket MDX’s toll revenue. A Kendall or Homestead motorist traveling on the 836 twice a day can expect to pay upwards of a $1,000 per year in expressway tolls. In many cases, the cost is multiplied by two or more drivers per household.
On a related matter, concern about tolldodgers is becoming an issue as communities such as Fontainebleau, Sweetwater, Doral, Grapeland Heights, Little Havana, Allapattah and Overtown worry about increased vehicle traffic on their roads as commuters and cargo trucks begin taking surface roads to avoid the tolls on expressways.
Meantime, the MDX is coming under increased scrutiny for its toll-and-spend habits, with some questioning the costs of studies for potential “toll-a-coasters” along the US1 corridor in Pinecrest and the installation of $7,800 palm trees for landscaping along county expressways.
Roll Back Tolls views these items as red flags and has urged more county oversight of the MDX. Roll Back Tolls on its website has featured video of MDX public meetings where everything from water fountains in the middle of highways to “toll-a-coasters” is discussed. With the exception of recent meetings in the Pinecrest/Palmetto Bay area, most MDX public meetings have not been very well attended and Roll Back Tolls has criticized MDX for a lack of outreach to the people.
We view the recent MDX offer of a $50 Sun Pass freebie to motorists who simply “like” the Road Rangers on its Facebook account as a blatant conflict. And the location of the last MDX meeting in a Salvation Army homeless shelter on the north side of the county was simply another slap in the face to the Miami-Dade public.
However, after two-and-a-half years of groundwork, we feel that Roll Back Tolls is finally being heard by the people. Recently, Mike Rosenberg, president of the Kendall Federation of Homeowners Associations, addressed the county commission on the issue of rising expressway tolls and the MDX. He pleaded on behalf of the surrounding communities that will be impacted by the expressway toll rate hikes. He noted that the KFHA has adopted a resolution asking that the county take action to curb the escalating expressway toll rates. He said his organization is calling on other organizations in the community to do the same.
Meantime, our online petition to rein in the MDX is gaining traction on the Internet.
For more information and to sign the petition, go online at www.rollbacktolls.com.
Carlos Garcia is the co-founder and chairman of RollBackTolls.com, a non-profit, grass roots organization charged with informing the Miami-Dade community about expressway tolls. He is a frequent contributor to this newspaper and the views he expresses are his own and not necessarily those of the editors and publishers. He may be contacted through www.rollbacktolls.com