Zapata complains that West Dade residents pay too much in tolls
By Suzy Valentine
A state representative of the western edge of Miami-Dade County says his constituents are spending a disproportionate amount on tolls.
Speaking at a Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce transportation summit Tuesday, Republican Rep. Juan Zapata said fees to fund improvements on State Roads 836 and 874 could be perceived as an additional annual tax - particularly onerous to couples.
"A dollar each way on a two-income household," he said at a meeting of the Transportation, Infrastructure and Regionalism Committee, "we're talking about a $1,000 per annum tax income. That's significant - especially when we are talking about people who are workers. Say they drive down Kendall Drive and they get on the turnpike, they've already paid a $1 toll and then three or four miles, there's another toll."
Rep. Zapata, who represents Sweetwater, west of Florida's Turnpike south to Florida City, east Kendall and west Kendall to Redland, said higher-education students would be among others hammered by toll payments.
"Why are we going to install a toll that impacts Florida International University and Miami Dade College students," he said, "when we understand that the most important thing we can do for the community is to educate our children? Are we going to tax them now and make it even more expensive?"
A representative for the toll industry shot back.
"Rep. Zapata is absolutely right when he says we have a serious lack of transportation infrastructure," said Patrick Jones, executive director of the Washington-based International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, "and that extends to the funding of that infrastructure.
"But Rep. Zapata is wrong when he says the tolls are a tax," said Mr. Jones, whose organization represents 70 toll agencies in 35 states. "The tolls are not a tax. Tolls are a user fee paid by the people who draw the benefit from the infrastructure they are using. You will see in this county, and other parts of the country, a movement toward toll pricing, value pricing and congestion pricing where we price the roadway system on the value of that system based on the value of avoiding congestion in those regions."
Tolls are the price motorists must pay for progress, he said.
"Today, one of the reasons we have a serious lack of infrastructure," said Mr. Jones, "is that we seriously underprice a very scarce commodity."
The Miami-Dade Expressway Authority has invested $141 million in road improvements since its inception, with 57% of projects to the east of the Palmetto Expressway. There is $208 million in construction in the works - 91% in projects west of the Palmetto Expressway.
The authority plans $1.1 billion in projects between 2006 and 2014 - $392 million of it in the west of the county.
According to a study by Coral Gables-based Washington Economics Group, the expressway authority's 2005 to 2010 work program will have a $1.3 billion economic impact on the county and create 13,400 jobs. The study predicts commuters, as a result, will collectively save $580 million or 20 million hours in commuting time.