This past November, anticipating the launch of a new toll system on the Dolphin and Airport expressways, Doral resident Alexander Gonzalez was worried. He was already paying about $50 every month on those roads to get to and from work at a communications company in Coral Gables. The changes would double, to $100 a month in tolls — severely adding to his family’s expenses.
So he decided to start a petition to air his grievances to the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (MDX). He expected 100 signatures at most. But now, seven months later, it’s been signed more than 12,000 times. He plans to deliver it soon to Mayor Carlos Gimenez.
“I’d never made a petition before, and I didn’t expect anything,” Gonzalez says. “I have no idea how it got so many signatures, but it just shows how people are feeling.”
The new tolls began November 15, with a charge at every entrance and exit on the Dolphin and Airport expressways. Previously, all traffic heading west was toll-free, and many motorists never paid a single toll. Now every driver traveling on the two roads pays.
Before the change, the roundtrip fee from NW 87th Avenue, near Fontainebleau and Doral, to downtown Miami was $1. Now it’s $3.20, an increase of more than 300 percent.
“Something really has to be looked at,” says Carlos Garcia, an advertising exec who started RollBackTolls.com, a grassroots watchdog seeking justifiable tolls and transparency. “There’s an obvious disconnect in the realities of the people that sit on the MDX board and Miami Dade’s everyday commuter.”
MDX hasn’t exactly given Gonzalez and his fellow commuters a sense that it’s hearing their concerns. In a December board meeting, MDX board chair Maritza Gutierrez urged people complaining about the increases to stop "bellyaching." Instead, she said they could sign up for a new MDX discount program.
Garcia mapped out where MDX board members live and says the majority don’t live near the toll roads on which they vote. “People just feel ignored,” Garcia says.
MDX spokesman Mario Diaz points out that MDX receives “no federal funding, no funds from the State Transportation Trust Fund, no property tax, no sales tax, no gasoline tax, and no revenues from the half-penny sales tax.
“The only revenues used to improve the MDX system are the tolls collected,” he says. “MDX assures that what is collected in Miami-Dade County remains in Miami-Dade County and is invested locally.”
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Since 1996, when MDX took over the Dolphin (State Road 836), Airport (SR 112), Don Shula (SR 874), and Snapper Creek (SR 878) expressways, as well as the Gratigny Parkway (SR 924), the system has been repaved and improved, with more lane miles and new entrance and exit systems, he says. And by this time next year, “the new 836 and 112 projects will be awarded for design and/or construction.”
But rather than eat the cost of the new tolls, some drivers now avoid the expressways and take small, already-crowded side streets.
Realtor Araceli Villanueva, who signed Gonzalez’s petition last week, has begun using side streets to get to meetings with her clients in downtown Miami and points west.
“The city is becoming a really difficult place to get around,” she says. “Miami was not ready for the kind of expansion it’s having right now. There’s already no public transportation. You can’t just manage this by putting tolls everywhere.”