Miami-Dade County drivers facing toll fatigue would get a 3 percent rebate and a temporary reprieve from toll increases on county expressways under two proposals that cleared their final House committees Thursday.
Sponsored by Rep. Jeanette M. Nuñez, R-Miami, HB 961, would give anyone who uses a SunPass or toll-by-plate to pay tolls to the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority electronically to receive a 3 percent rebate this year — a cost to MDX of about $7 million.
The second bill, by Rep. Bryan Avila, R-Hialeah, would impose a ban on any toll increase until MDX has conducted an independent traffic and revenue study, unless the increase is needed to adjust for inflation. Both bills were passed by the House Government Accountability Committee and now move to the full House.
“It’s an issue that every single one of us campaigned on,” Nuñez said. “What we’ve seen in terms of the inordinate impact tolls and traffic is taking on people’s lives is becoming unbearable. I’m hoping this is one small piece to bring relief to the toll-payer — but also force MDX’s hand to be an active participant in helping the county.”
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Under Nuñez’s bill, MDX would have to transfer to the county no less than 20 percent of its annual surplus revenues beginning in December 2017. Estimated at $13 million to $15 million, the money must be used by the county to construct new transportation or transit facilities or improve existing ones.
“It’s the impetus for MDX to start working with the county to develop long term solutions for county transit,” Nuñez said.
The bill does not specify how the rebates would be executed, but it could come in the form of an annual rebate or an automatic reduction on electronic transactions. MDX estimates that it collects more than 400 million tolls a year.
Avila’s bill, HB 1049, called the “Toll Reform Act,” imposes new restrictions on MDX. In addition to the ban on tolls without a traffic or revenue study, the bill requires that toll increase must have a two-thirds vote of the board.
MDX is governed by a civilian board, mostly appointed by Miami-Dade commissioners. It manages five of the county’s busiest highways, including the Don Shula Expressway (State Road 874), Snapper Creek Expressway (SR 878) and the Gratigny Parkway (SR 924).
The measure also imposes new restrictions on future toll roads, prohibiting them from being built less than five miles from an existing toll facility. The MDX must also post board contracts, budgets and meeting minutes on its website and is prohibited from using more than 10 percent of its toll revenues on administrative expenses.
“The addition of new tolls combined with rate increases have become a financial burden on residents in Miami-Dade County,” Avila said in a statement. “The Miami-Dade Expressway Authority has not done enough to alleviate many of the concerns in our community. This legislation will put parameters in place to protect commuters who need to use these roadways to go to work or take their children to school. ”
Similar Senate bills by Miami Republican Sens. Anitere Flores and Rene Garcia are still pending before Senate committees.
Nuñez said she is confident that the county’s leadership and its increased focus on finding solutions to the county’s transit woes has brought “willingness and political muscle” to the problem.
“We’ve been talking about this for years,” she said. “I’m not satisfied with conversation. This is action.”
Mary Ellen Klas: meklas@MiamiHerald.com and @MaryEllenKlas