As the mayor of Cutler Bay I have had to field many questions from my constituents about the Miami Dade Expressway Authority (MDX). I have to explain to my citizens that this board is appointed by politicians but the members are not elected, and they have full control over five Miami-Dade County roads (State Roads 112,836, 874, 978, and 924).
Recently the MDX Board has voted to raise tolls on millions of drivers because it said that MDX needed the additional revenue to maintain the roadway system. The MDX Board will once again vote to raise tolls on the citizens of South Florida on June 18.
I have attended the last two meetings where the board met to raise tolls, and I have been so disappointed by the lack of attendance by our elected officials at these critical hearings. I was the only elected official to watch the unelected board vote to raise the cost of traveling to work and to visit loved ones with little outside opposition.
Although these important hearings are public there is a sparse audience and the board seems to act in a bubble without any thought to the people who travel these roads daily.
On July 1, MDX will be implementing a 100 percent toll rate hike on toll-by-plate transactions and when I discuss this issue with my constituents no one seems to know about this new policy. In fairness, the MDX Board has attempted to warn the public but our citizens are quite frankly too busy to read every notice in the local newspaper.
About 15 percent to 20 percent of Miami-Dade residents don’t use Sun Pass. In addition, many visitors traveling in and through our communities also don’t use these transponders. I suspect that number will get a lot smaller by the first of August, when South Florida residents open their Sun Pass bills.
What bears mentioning, however, is that roughly 50 percent of motorists driving through a gantry without a Sun Pass don’t even get billed for those transactions. This is called “leakage” and it has to do with deficiencies in the systems MDX has installed. In the business sector, 10 percent leakage is considered a big thing, so I am astounded by this statistic. Are rates doubling so that half the people can pay 100 percent of the bill? Shouldn’t MDX be working on collecting the tolls it presently charges rather than jacking up rates to accommodate its own inadequacies?
There is also the matter of the lawsuit between MDX and the provider of that flawed technology. I presume that MDX cannot speak about pending litigation, but one can imagine that MDX might be going after recouping lost toll revenue. (I have heard numbers of $6,500 per day).
There is also the matter of the replacement of the equipment. I find it interesting that MDX is showing a $10 million line item for purchasing new equipment on a budget used to justify a recent 54 percent toll hike on SR836. That appears to be a bit of a double dip.
Thanks to the efforts of the grassroots group, RollBackTolls.com, these MDX issues are getting the attention they deserve. I am pleased to see the published letters on their website from state legislators, mayors and commissioners who are opposed to more toll hikes. If the elected officials and the public unite we may be able to send a message to the unelected board to stop voting to take our hard-earned money.
Sunshine is, indeed, the best answer.
The public hearing will be at MDX headquarters, 3790 NW 21 Street on June 18 at 4 p.m. to discuss more toll rate increases.
Please try to attend and let your voice be heard that you feel that MDX should live within its budget and stop with these increases that the public can no longer afford.
Ed MacDougall is the mayor of Cutler Bay.