A judge saved the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, at least for now, and the toll agency is ready to use its reprieve to create momentum to build the 836 expressway into West Kendall.
Reconvening for the first time since a Florida law abolished their seats, MDX board members on Tuesday said they wanted to start hiring the firms needed to design part of the 13-mile toll road extension dubbed the Kendall Parkway.
Time may be short: MDX lawyers are waiting for the state to appeal an Aug. 9 lower court ruling that struck down a new law that would replace the 24-year-old toll agency with a new one that would have to answer to Tallahassee on some key spending decisions.
“It’s been a very difficult 48 days,” said Javier Rodriguez, the MDX director who remained in charge when the law took effect July 3 and created the Greater Miami Expressway Agency.
Rodriguez said he’ll ask the MDX board at a meeting next week to approve a bidding process for the design firms needed for access roads to the 836 extension. That would be the first step toward constructing the $1 billion project, which is opposed by environmental groups and others who see the plan as encouraging sprawl near the Everglades.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to start moving forward,” said Louis Martinez, the MDX board member who serves as treasurer for the agency.
The legislation backed by Miami-Dade Republicans to create the new toll agency states the Kendall Parkway should be a priority of the GMX board. It also calls for the agency to lower tolls and expand an existing rebate program if finances allow for the revenue reductions. Critics of the bill said the cuts would all but doom the 836 extension.
The turmoil has brought financial challenges. Wall Street ratings firms began downgrading MDX’s debt as the bill neared passage, moves that would increase borrowing costs the next time the toll agency takes on more debt.
MDX has held off borrowing in recent years amid the fight with Tallahassee, which has already passed two laws that impose new restrictions on the agency. MDX says the laws have cost the agency its status as an independent toll board, and with it the ability to borrow at lower rates.
Until the current litigation is resolved, MDX lawyers said Tuesday they can’t pursue traditional bond sales on Wall Street to borrow money for major projects, including the 836 extension.
“God knows where this will end up,” Carlos Gimenez, the Miami-Dade mayor who also serves as MDX chairman, said during the meeting. “Maybe the Supreme Court.”