It's time to mount a serious campaign to end tolls in Miami-Dade County. Any time the government wants to charge people money, we should be allowed to vote on it. Florida's Turnpike Enterprise and the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (MDX) are highway robbers preying on predominantly poor motorists struggling to have a roof over their heads, put food on the table, and take care of their families.
I remember the days when there was only one toll on State Road 112 when you left Miami International Airport to get to Miami Beach. Now there are tolls on virtually every major highway in the county. Worse yet, Florida's Turnpike and MDX took down all the toll plazas and charge more money if drivers don't get a SunPass. Cameras take pictures of license plates every time you travels these toll roads, and months later you get a bill for hundreds of dollars. It's ridiculous.
MDX is a joke. It was created in 1994 by the Florida Legislature and the county commission under the premise that Miami-Dade would do a better job of operating local roads such as the Airport Expressway and the Gratigny Parkway.
The authority is controlled by a board of nine members, eight of whom are local business and civic leaders appointed by the governor and the county commission. In other words, the politicians created an entity that is accountable only to them, not the residents of Miami-Dade.
According to MDX's toll-rate schedule, it would cost a commuter who crosses all five expressways from beginning to end $85.75 during a five-day workweek with a SunPass. Without a Sunpass, the cost jumps to $171.50. And that doesn't include all the service charges MDX tacks on, including a fee just to send you a bill. Yearly, it would cost a motorist $8,232 to use all the expressways under MDX's jurisdiction. Imagine how much more money it costs drivers who have to tack on trips on Florida's Turnpike.
The most recent U.S Census data shows the median household income in Miami-Dade is $44,224. It's less than half of that amount for African-American households. Think about the single moms working two jobs who have to drive these expressways to drop off their children, or the construction worker going home from the job site in downtown Miami to Little Havana. Then there are the people living in South Miami-Dade who have to commute in two to three hours of rush-hour traffic each way.
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They are paying to sit in gridlock that has been amplified by the nonstop reconstruction of roadways and the interchanges on the Dolphin Expressway. This is not Dubai, where everyone is an oil sheik who can treat tolls like pocket change. But if anyone tried to put tolls on the William Lehman Causeway by Aventura or the Julia Tuttle and MacArthur Causeways into Miami Beach, watch how fast the rich people from those cities would shut it down.
Meanwhile, MDX is flush with cash. It has spent more than $3.3 billion on expressway projects since its inception and is about to complete a five-year capital improvement program to replace and repair the existing program and build new toll roads that costs more than $1.4 billion. Yet there are serious concerns about the way MDX manges its purse strings. Just last month, the authority lost a major lawsuit. A judge ruled it has to pay an ex-contractor, Electronic Transactions Consultants Corp., $53.3 million for damages incurred by the firm and interest.
It's time to get a petition going and let the people decide if we want to abolish tolls.
Follow Luke on Twitter: @unclelukereal1.