Traffic

Miami-Dade expressway agency to give toll refunds to frequent drivers

"Welcome to Miami" sign located on the toll taker eastbound on the 836 approaching downtown.
"Welcome to Miami" sign located on the toll taker eastbound on the 836 approaching downtown. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Still battling public complaints and criticism over last year’s $52 million increase in highway tolls, the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority is expected to approve a program that will refund to drivers any toll money that’s left over after it pays for highway construction and maintenance.

MDX’s board of directors will vote on the refunds, which will be divided among drivers who spend at least $100 a year traveling the agency’s five highways, at a public meeting at its headquarters at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

The refunds, an expansion of the MDX Advantage Program — a kind of frequent-driver program that provides registered drivers with cash and merchant discount coupons — are the latest of several moves aimed at defusing public anger and political fallout over “Tollmaggedon,” as the increase has come to be known among its multitude of critics.

Earlier this year, MDX promised it wouldn’t hike tolls again before 2019 and that any future increases will be tied to the Consumer Price Index. It also pledged that future MDX expansions must pay for themselves with their own tolls, rather than from price hikes across the whole system of highways.

But MDX’s conciliatory moves haven’t done much to quiet complaints. Less than two months ago, there was even a proposal before the state Legislature to shrink and shuffle the membership of the authority’s board of directors and replace chairman Maritza Gutierrez with Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

The effort was ultimately unsuccessful, but it was a clear warning that controversy over the toll increase hasn’t died out.

Members of the MDX Advantage Program — anybody who has a SunPass can sign up for free at http://www.mdxway.com/advantage — are already eligible for up to $30 in toll rebates per quarter.

But to qualify for the rebates, they must use MDX expressways at least 66 times every 90 days and spend at least $50 in tolls during that time.

Those eligibility requirements will be significantly eased under the new plan. Anybody who spends $100 a year or more on tolls will get some kind of refund, though MDX hasn’t said yet how much. The authority also plans to reopen registration for the MDX Advantage Program, which closed in April, for another month starting July 13.

MDX officials say there will be money left over from last year’s toll increase because the agency’s credit rating has been upgraded, which means it will cost less for MDX to borrow money.

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