Business

More Toll Roads Coming, With a Fight Over the Money

By: Kenric Ward | Posted: February 7, 2012 3:55 AM
Toll Road in Orlando

State Road 408 (East-West Expressway) in Orlando, Florida | Credit: Andy Callahan - Flickr

A growing nationwide trend toward toll roads could see more of them rolling out in Florida.

Under a new federal program that allows selected interstate highways to be reconstructed with tolls, Virginia will add tolls along the I-95 corridor and Missouri will toll its stretch of I-70.

Gov. Rick Scott hailed the extension of toll lanes on I-95 into Broward County last year, saying the move benefits all motorists.

"It took the rush-hour traffic for the nontolled lanes from 25 mph to 45 (mph). So for people not paying the toll it was a big benefit [too]," Scott said in a series of radio interviews last year.

"We're going to start doing that across the state," the governor said.

On cue, Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad says he wants a private company to build four middle toll lanes on I-4 through Orlando. Under his plan, the company would operate the lanes for 30 years.

The number of free lanes on the heavily traveled stretch would remain the same, officials said.

With little or no public appetite for raising gasoline taxes -- the main source for highway funding -- tolls appear to be taking the inside track.

A recent Reason Foundation poll has found that people are more willing to pay tolls than increased fuel taxes, by a margin of 58 percent to 28 percent.

The newly formed U.S. Tolling Coalition says many interstates are nearing the end of their 50-year design life, and that upgrades are needed.

The prospect of more toll revenue has, naturally, spawned conflicting ideas over who should control the money. Two recent studies argued for diametrically opposed models.

One, from a cost-saving task force commissioned by Scott, recommends a consolidation of toll road authorities in the state.

Matt Falconer, a member of the Government Efficiency Task Force, calls the current arrangement a debt-ridden "Ponzi scheme" with inefficiencies that could lead to $10 tolls.

The second study, by the libertarian-oriented Reason Foundation, said toll agencies should be freed from FDOT supervision "so they can better meet local needs."
 
“Florida has long been a national leader with its local tolling authority model,” said Robert Poole, one of the principal authors of the Reason study. “Other states, like Texas, embrace this model, and for Florida to create a bigger government bureaucracy would be a mistake.”

The study disputed claims that consolidation will net as much as $24 million in annual cost reductions. Reason said most of those savings have already been realized through collaboration among local authorities and contracting with private-sector vendors.

The Reason study, funded through a grant from Associated Industries of Florida, argued that greater autonomy for local toll authorities would foster "strong, self-supporting urban toll agencies and level the playing field for all tolling agencies."

Skeptics of the consolidation model worry that it would boost borrowing capacity to $5 billion and give a centralized authority undue latitude to embark on controversial or nonessential toll projects, such as state Sen. J.D. Alexander's long-sought Heartland Parkway running south from Polk County.

Suspicious of previous attempts at toll-authority consolidation, critics estimate Heartland would cost two to three times more than the $1.8 billion Wekiva Parkway around Orlando.

Whichever model moves forward, Scott said Florida can designate toll lanes on federal highways as long as the state adds a new lane.



Contact Kenric Ward at kward@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 801-5341.






Comments (5)

Scott
3:47PM JUL 26TH 2012
please build it!I need work,if you dont like it dont take atoll road.
David Tanner
9:44AM FEB 7TH 2012
Point of clarification: Virginia and Missouri only have conditional approval from the FHWA to toll their respective interstates (under the Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program). Those states still have hoops to jump through to make tolls a reality. It's important to note that to date, no state has received final approval to convert a previously untolled interstate into a toll road. Where the administration does show a preference for tolls is to allow new capacity, i.e. new roads or new lanes added to existing roads, to use tolls. And the number of "free" lanes would remain the same. The latter pertains to the proposal in Orlando and it is not related to the ISRRPP as it involves new capacity.
-David Tanner, associate editor for Land Line Magazine.
Ignored Floridian Taxpayer
7:58AM FEB 7TH 2012
Is this what Rick Scott meant by smaller government and less regulations? And to think, if we had high speed rail we wouldn't need this T-A-X!

The second study, by the libertarian-oriented Reason Foundation, said toll agencies should be freed from FDOT supervision "so they can better meet local needs."
Translation: we make more money if we are self-regulated.

"critics estimate Heartland would cost two to three times more than the $1.8 billion Wekiva Parkway around Orlando." Hey Mark, why aren't you concerned about this inefficiency?
Ignored Floridian Taxpayer
8:00AM FEB 7TH 2012
Previous post should have read, "Hey Matt, why aren't you concerned about this inefficiency?"
Concerned Citizen
5:35AM FEB 7TH 2012
Matt Falconer believes he is this political power broker with all the answers. Yet he and others on the government Efficiency Task Force are being used as pawns in what will become a big money boondoggle designed to benefit a few.

Falconer's plan will take money generated locally to bond about $5.5 billion for the new Heartland Express toll road that will travel from Miami right thru prime land owned by State Senator J.D. Alexander.

Don't believe me Mr. Falconer? Just do some simple research. This goes back years and good old J.D. will make millions at the expense of the little guy once again. Your first chance to actually shine in government has resulted in you increasing government and debt and reducing local control from the people. Maybe if you had spent more time researching your topic and less time promoting yourself you could have been a voice for the people.

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