Cutler Bay council members have passed a resolution saying that a new plan to create express toll lanes on the Palmetto Expressway and Interstate 75 will place a financial strain on commuters.
“It was on the agenda because we wanted to discuss it,” Mayor Ed MacDougall said after the May 21 council meeting. “I don’t think there is a lot we can do about it. I’m still not in favor of the tolling they are putting up. I’m opposed to the debt that they are carrying. It’s inexcusable. They are not engaging in any kind of public transportation. No mass transit. Nothing really has changed.”
The Florida Department of Transportation’s Palmetto Express project adds tolled express lanes along the Palmetto (State Road 826) from West Flagler Street to Northwest 154th Street and on I-75 from the Palmetto to Northwest 170th Street. The FDOT-managed project began in April 2014 and is expected to be completed in fall 2017.
The average daily traffic during afternoon rush hours in 2017 is expected to be 16,900 vehicles in general use (toll-free) lanes and 2,200 vehicles in express lanes on the Palmetto from Flagler Street to Northwest 154th Street.
FDOT plans to use “dynamic” tolling, meaning that tolls will vary based on how much traffic is in the express lanes. Toll rates will increase as congestion increases. Roadway monitors track how fast cars are traveling, how close they are to one another, and how many cars are in the express lanes to determine tolls.
But Jane Walker, a local activist and volunteer for RollBackTolls.com, a grassroots anti-toll group in South Florida, has questions regarding public transportation accommodations.
“Express lanes work because of buses,” Walker said. “The question for me is what value do express lanes have? Should they be dedicated bus lanes? Why are you ... putting express lanes on the 826? It’s very anti-commerce. You can’t put big rigs on the express lanes.”
FDOT says that there are no current plans for bus transportation south of the current construction area.
“Broward and Miami-Dade commuters will be able to travel by bus rapid transit from the BB&T Center in [Sunrise] to the Palmetto Metrorail Station at Northwest 74th Street in Miami-Dade County and vice versa via the express lanes,” said project manager Judy Solaun.
The construction also includes new lighting and noise barrier walls at specific locations along I-75. The project is expected to cost $275 million.
“We have a traffic problem, I realize that,” said MacDougall, who is running for Congress in the November election. “But for me and who I speak with, particularly the public, they want some sort of mass transit.”
“We know we can’t afford heavy rail. We can at least put bus services that are interconnected on these expressways. … Double buses with additional stops where you can ride the bus more cheaply than a car. The only thing left that won’t be tolled will be U.S. 1. They are going to toll the bus lane on U.S. 1. They are going to toll the turnpike, express lanes and tolls. It’s just going to be unaffordable for some people.”
In 2013, 244,000 vehicle passed through the Palmetto’s Northwest 25th Street interchange. And 52,500 vehicles passed through the expressway’s southern end at Kendall Drive each day.
But FDOT’s Solaun noted drivers never have to use the express lanes.
“It is important to note that the use of express lanes is optional,” she said. “Express lanes are not meant to be used all the time by all drivers. On certain days some drivers may choose to use the express lanes and pay the dynamic toll. Commuters who do not choose to pay the express lanes will be able to use the toll-free lanes, also known as general purpose lanes.”