Fabiola Santiago

Fabiola Santiago: Higher tolls are tough on workers

When are common sense and the needs of the working class and the poor going to drive policy-making around here?

Surely the well-heeled political appointees levying heavy highway tolls on the Dolphin Expressway (836) and the Airport Expressway (112) were not thinking of people like Evelyn Perez, 27, living on a starter salary and commuting west from her East Little Havana home to a 9-to-5 job at Florida International University.

Or the Sweetwater parent whose barely-above-minimum-wage job at a Miami Beach or downtown Miami hotel helps support a family.

Or students like Stephanie Vasquez, pursuing a graduate degree in social work at night and making $10 an hour at a funeral home day-job in Little Havana. She not only drives back and forth to FIU on 836 four times a week, she also makes extra trips to attend Amnesty International meetings and events.

“Considering that we’re one of the largest employers in the county and the largest school when it comes to student enrollment, the tolls are a detriment to getting to and from here,” says Perez, a public relations and marketing specialist at FIU’s College of Arts & Sciences.

For her, the daily $4.20 toll on her 24-mile round-trip on 836 — more than $1,000 a year — would be “insane.” To cut down on tolls, in the mornings she takes one-way Seventh Street, then merges onto Eighth Street for a stop-and-go drive to FIU at 107th Avenue. Going home she takes 836, her normal route before the toll hike.

She has to “think twice,” she says, before visiting friends and family in the Redland and Homestead because now she’s got twice the tolls with the 836 and Turnpike combo.

Commuters have a name for the costly mess the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority has made of our major highways in the name of improvements: Tollmageddon.

I call it cluelessness about real people’s lives — and about the need for public transportation solutions that take people where they need to be safely and at a cost commensurate with low salaries.

The tolls we’re paying are not only going toward road maintenance and improvements, but also toward paying for the expansive bureaucracy at MDX, run by an executive director under a board of directors made up of political appointees.

While people are seeing paychecks shrink, the MDX operating budget is growing in 2015 by an enviable 28.8 percent, according to reports from the agency.

We don’t get to elect any of the people who govern and run MDX — yet they get to do what amounts to taxing people via fees to use roads that are essential to getting to work and school.

Political patronage and taxation without representation — that’s what’s fueling our misery. And there’s more to come when tolls are added to the Palmetto Expressway, a working man’s highway if there is one.

A petition to roll back the increases is only a computer click away, at www.rollbacktolls.com .

But for those who are fed up and want to say so in person, I’d say this is your chance: The MDX board of directors will meet at 4 p.m. Tuesday at the William Lehman MDX Building.

Of course, you’ll have to pay tolls to get there.

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