Soon after officials activated a new electronic collection system on State Road 836 in November, which resulted in a toll hike for some commuters, people who live or work along streets parallel to the expressway complained about a sharp increase in traffic.
They blamed the new tolls for the rise in traffic, claiming that thousands of commuters were pouring onto side streets to avoid paying the highway fare.
Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) figures show that traffic along some roads parallel to the expressway indeed has increased, but officials say the increase cannot be attributed to the new tolls. That’s because the increase did not happen from one year to the next, but rather over time and not in a consistent, linear way.
Nine years of traffic counts — from 2006 to 2015 — show traffic decreasing along some of the roadways during the 2008 economic crisis and then rebounding as the economy improved.
As a result, transportation officials say, several factors likely played a role in the overall traffic increase. They include an improving economy and cheaper gas prices that led to more drivers and new migration patterns that brought more people to South Florida. Another factor that may have driven commuters away from 836: almost constant construction on 836 at the junction with State Road 826, the Palmetto Expressway.
Whether this explanation will convince commuters that tolls are not to blame for the traffic hike is unclear. What is clear, however, is that traffic has been steadily increasing in Miami-Dade since 2011 when the 2008-2010 economic crisis began to ease.
On 36th Street, which runs north of 836, and on Flagler and SW Eighth Streets — which run south of 836 — traffic counts known as AADT or Average Annual Daily Traffic show traffic up on two of the three roads since 2009, 36th Street and SW Eighth Street. But traffic on Flagler, over all, has declined slightly.
While traffic has gone up eight percent on 36th Street, and two percent on SW Eighth Street, it has actually gone down on average two percent on Flagler, according to the AADT counts at different sites on the three roadways east of 87th Avenue.
Officials at the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (MDX), which operates 836 and four other toll roads, have said that after the new toll system took effect, traffic increased about two percent on 836.
Ironically, it’s residents on Flagler Street who have complained the most about traffic since the new tolling system took effect.
“The street is more congested than before the tolls went up,” said Nicolás González, who has lived for years near the corner of Flagler Street and LeJeune Road.
While drivers expressed frustration with traffic congestion, street vendors who sell them water, food and fruit said sales increase when traffic is crawling.
Traffic increases or decreases on the roadways have not been consistent year-by-year throughout each street. On some stretches, traffic has increased, but on others it has decreased during different years.
For example, average annual daily traffic on 36th Street in 2006 stood at 67,500 vehicles at a counting site just east of Milam Dairy Road/NW 72nd Avenue. But in 2008, the count dipped to a low of 66,000. However, the count picked up again in 2009, rising to 72,500; then 73,000 in 2010 — falling again to 66,000 in 2011 and to 62,500 in 2012. Then traffic at the site on 36th Street rose again, to 64,000 in 2013; but dipped again to 61,500 in 2014 and so far in 2015 it’s up again to 66,500.
Traffic counts followed a similar pattern of ups and downs on Flagler and SW Eighth Street. On Flagler, for example, a counting site just east of NW 87th Avenue, showed average annual daily traffic at 52,000 vehicles in 2014. So far in 2015, the count has gone up to 53,000. But at another site, just west of 72nd Avenue traffic counts actually decreased from last year to now, going from 53,500 to 49,500. In 2010, average annual daily traffic at that site stood at a high of 55,000.