New report suggests most drivers prefer tolls

An electronic sign welcomes Miami drivers traveling eastbound on the toll highway 836, near the downtown, on June 3, 2015.
An electronic sign welcomes Miami drivers traveling eastbound on the toll highway 836, near the downtown, on June 3, 2015. Miami Herald

While many commuters in Miami-Dade are enraged by a recent toll hike in two of the busiest expressways in the county, an organization that represents toll road operators and owners insists many drivers prefer paying tolls.

“While some people may still complain about paying tolls on South Florida roadways, a new report shows that more and more Americans are using toll roads to get to their destination,” according to the report released by the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA).

IBTTA released the report in advance of a three-day summit conference in Miami on all-electronic tolling and other technological advances in tolling. The conference will be held beginning Sunday at the Hotel InterContinental in downtown Miami.

“More than 600 attendees will be focusing much of their time on the advanced technologies of tolling, like all-electronic tolling, which eliminates the need for toll booths and provides a quicker and safer commute for customers,” said summit co-chief and organizer Greg Le Frois of HNTB Corporation. “Another tolling advancement is what we call interoperability, which allows commuters to use one transponder across state lines.”

It was the imposition of all-electronic tolling on the five toll roads the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (MDX) operates that eventually led to widespread commuter anger after the system took effect in November on State Roads 112 and 836, two of the busiest expressways in the county.

That’s because under all-electronic tolling, MDX forced drivers on these two roads to pay a toll no matter where they enter the highway. Previously, many drivers were able to travel for free for long stretches that were not tolled.

A second source of anger is an ongoing Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) statewide plan to create a network of express toll lanes on previously untolled expressways such as I-95.

But the BTTA report suggests that not all commuters are angry.

“The findings show there are 37 million electronic toll accounts across the U.S.,” a BTTA statement said. “This is an increase of 20 percent in the past five years. And for nearly every account, there are multiple drivers, doubling the number of drivers using all-electronic tolling regularly.”

BTTA also cited a 2010 survey indicating commuter preference for tolls to pay for transportation projects.

“Eighty four percent of Americans feel tolls should be considered as a primary source of transportation revenue or on a project-by-project basis,” according to the BTTA statement.

MDX has seen an overall increase of about 2 percent in traffic on State Road 836 since the new electronic tolling system took, according to MDX figures.

Since the activation of the systems, MDX leaders have also taken steps that some observes view as moves to mitigate commuter anger.

In June, MDX approved a rebate program under which toll-paying commuters could get back about $3 million in refunds. On Thursday, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez said he was going to send MDX a letter saying the agency should lower the tolls in place of rebates. MDX, in response, said it plans to maintain the refund program.

Earlier in the year, MDX said it would not hike tolls again before 2019.

Follow Alfonso Chardy on Twitter @AlfonsoChardy

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