Pedro Grifol’s commute to work from Kendall to downtown Miami used to cost him $5 a week. Now with a new toll system on 836, he will have to dish out $12.40 a week.
Grifol, who works at José Martí Park, said the extra money spent on tolls means less to spend on his family.
“Miami is made of working people,” said Grifol, who commutes five days a week. “It’s a travesty.”
Grifol is not alone. Commuters are grumbling about additional tolls that went into effect Saturday on state roads 836 and 112, the Dolphin and Airport expressways.
But highway managers say the revenue will help finance needed improvements to ease congestion on 836 — one of South Florida’s busiest expressways.
“It is not fair, to be honest” 836 commuter Lourdes García said last week while she pumped gas near the highway at Northwest 27th Avenue. “We already pay enough tolls and there’s already a lot of construction going on. They should have at least waited until some of the work was completed before implementing this.”
On Monday — the first time weekday commuters faced the tolls — not much changed in terms of traffic flow, said Miami-Dade Expressway Authority spokesman Mario Diaz.
“We would need some time to further evaluate traffic volumes on the expressways, but we have not seen anything different than other previous Mondays,” he said.
So what does electronic tolling mean for the average driver?
A single toll booth and a fixed cost have been replaced with several toll points along the highway that automatically deduct money from a driver’s SunPass account or snap a picture of a license tag for billing by mail. Cars no longer have to stop to pay.
But the new toll fees have drivers coming and going. Up until this weekend, drivers on 836, for example, could travel for long stretches without a fee. Now, drivers will be charged no matter where they enter the highway, and in both directions.
Only 55 percent of 836 drivers previously paid a toll. Now everyone does.
Tolls on 836 vary from 30 cents on ramps to 70 cents on the mainline road. On 112, two tolling points westbound and eastbound charge 35 cents each way.
For an 836 driver who travels between downtown Miami and Florida International University in West Miami-Dade, for example, tolls went up from $2.50 to $4.20 for a round trip. That means a driver taking this stretch is paying an extra $8.50 a week, $34 a month, $408 a year.
The additional tolls will generate an extra $53 million annually over the current revenue of $120 million per year from all Miami-Dade Expressway Authority toll roads: 836/Dolphin, 112/Airport, 874/Don Shula, 878/Snapper Creek and 924/Gratigny Parkway. About a million drivers use MDX’s five toll roads on a daily basis.
Expressway officials leveraged the new toll revenues to obtain $340 million in bond money to rebuild parts of 836 by putting most exit ramps on the right and ensuring that the road has the same number of lanes from one end to the other. A lot of current congestion occurs because of traffic weaving at places where one lane ends and merges with an adjacent one.
Also to be paid for by the tolls:
▪ Reconstruction of 836 between the Miami River and Interstate 95. The project includes pavement rehabilitation and new ramps from 836 to I-95 in both directions.
▪ Construction at the 836-87th Avenue interchange to add capacity to Northwest 12th Street from 82nd to 87th avenues.
▪ Extension of State Road 874 to the west, linking it to Southwest 128th Street, which will be widened between Southwest 122nd Avenue and 137th avenues to provide an alternate route.
▪ Implementation of final design for the planned extension of the Gratigny Parkway west to the Homestead Extension of Florida’s Turnpike.
“The projects contained in the work program will have a total economic impact to our county of $1.5 billion while also creating more than 10,400 jobs in our community,” said Diaz, the MDX spokesman.
In addition to the new tolling system on 836 and 112, drivers are facing other changes across South Florida. The Florida Department of Transportation plans to build or expand electronic toll lanes on I-95, I-75 and State Road 826, the Palmetto Expressway. Express tolls also were added on I-595, which links the Broward airport with western suburbs.
Drivers are feeling the squeeze.
“I would have no problem with more tolls if the government maintained the roads and they were kept in good condition, but the roads are not in good condition,” said Jimi Ibrahim, a Miami taxi driver.
Commuter Hunter Hoffman of Palmetto Bay looks for new routes to avoid new tolls.
: “The prices are ridiculous! The moment gas goes down, tolls go up,” he said. “You can't win in this city.”
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