Here’s a novel idea for how to slow the rising tolls across Miami Dade: Put them to a vote.
A new Miami-based political action committee — Drivers Ready to Improve, Vote, and Empower (DRIVE) — wants an amendment to the Florida Constitution that would require any toll increase anywhere in Florida to be voted on by the drivers it would affect. The group is collecting signatures to get the amendment on the November 2016 ballot.
“Voters across Florida are smart enough to understand that we need world-class highways and roads,” says Chris Wills, chairman of DRIVE. “But they can’t be funded in an unfair fashion, like now. We need to make sure we have a system that supports local residents and tourists.”
Wills began thinking about the initiative last November, as "Tollmageddon" shook Miami-Dade with new charges, including hikes at every entrance and exit on the Dolphin and Airport expressways. The proud Miamian, whose license plate reads "305 GUY," saw the burden become too much for friends and family across the county, some facing new weekly toll fees into the hundreds of dollars. In recent years, he had watched numerous attempts to regulate toll increases on South Florida’s highways fall flat — from state bills introduced in Tallahassee to local initiatives.
He began talking to people in the community, including citizen advocacy groups such as RollBackTolls.com. One solution that kept emerging, that hadn’t yet been tried, was to place tolls and toll increases on ballots.
“Basically, it would require that a tolling authority like MDX or FDOT go to the community where they’re planning the toll and make a real valid case for it,” Wills says. “A public information campaign about why a toll is necessary and where the money is going to go would give the community the confidence that the authorities will be good stewards of the funds.”
But would voters ever approve new tolls? Wills believes a well-informed populace would vote fairly on proposed toll increases.
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“If an authority comes to a community and makes a good case for it, the people who use that road will recognize that and be in favor of doing what is necessary to improve that road,” he says.
To get the amendment on the ballot, DRIVE must collect 700,000 signatures by January. So far, there are 12,000. Interested voters can sign the petition at the website nomoretolls.us.
It’s incredibly challenging to get an amendment on the ballot, and even more so to then get the required 60 percent of the vote needed to pass. It’s also expensive — it costs DRIVE 10 cents to validate each signature on the petition with the Division of Elections. If the initiative is successful, Wills is looking at spending $70,000 plus the cost of postage and mailing supplies. So Wills, who is volunteering his time to DRIVE, is also seeking donations.
“I want to make sure we do everything we can,” he says, “to keep Miami-Dade County the best place to live on the planet.”