The free ride is about to end on the Dolphin expressway (836). More than a dozen Sunpass toll points have been installed up and down the expressway. It means anyone driving on the 836 is going to pay, and for some they'll be paying double. This CBS4 investigation looks into the tolls, who will be impacted and where all that money, nearly a billion dollars is going.
Businesses Plan For You to Pay
Kent Cook has been in business in Miami-Dade for nearly 30 years. "Service and repair is what we are all about. From panels to landscape lights to hanging fixtures, flat screens on the way," Cook said.
Every morning his fleet of nearly a dozen trucks hit the highway, moving from job to job.
"We are on the road all the time. I looked into it. For the last four months we spent over a $1000 a month just on tolls. Just to keep the truck on the road,"he said.
When Cook recently learned tolls on the 836 were going up he finally said enough is enough.
"Somebody has to pay for it. And I'm in business, believe it or not, to make a profit so if things like this happen I have to in-turn turn it around and charged the customer a little bit more for these tolls," said Cook.
By his estimate Cook will be paying 50% more in tolls as of Saturday. That's when a network of 17 toll points goes live. Critics call it "Tollmageddon." Carlos Garcia, who operates Rollbacktolls.com chuckles at the name, but he's dead serious.
"Tollmaggedon. People are going to get off this highway and people are going to be outraged," Garcia said.
Last year Rollbacktoll.com rallied to try to stop the toll increase. But Miami-Dade Expressway's board, narrowly passed it. Critical votes came from board members appointed by Miami-Dade commissioners.
Garcia explained, "This is the truth. The reality is big tolls are coming to the 836. MDX is a government agency. This is big government tolling."
.30 cents for less than a mile
A map, enhanced and featured prominently on rollbacktolls.com's website is the sobering reality of what is about to happen. Essentially you won't be able to drive on the 836 in any direction without paying a toll. Even drivers driving less than a mile will be hit for 30 cents. It may not seem like much but it adds up. The drive from the Turnpike to Downtown Miami AND back is currently is $2.50. Next week it will be $4.20. For the daily commuter that's extra $34 dollars a month... A tank of gas for a sedan. Annually it's over $400 dollars... A car payment.
Nine days ago we requested to interview Miami Dade Expressway Authority's Chairwoman Maritza Gutiérrez about it. Instead MDX gave us their public information officer Mario Diaz. We asked him why.
"Our board is all a voluntary board. They all have full-time jobs and they weren't available to come out," Diaz said.
Diaz did explain their plan. Up until now 45 percent of drivers on the 836 were getting a free ride. Now everyone pays.
"Some will pay more. Some will pay where they've never paid before and some will pay less than what they currently pay. But by everyone paying for the portion that they use we are now able to move forward with critical improvements to the expressway," said Diaz.
The tolls will raise nearly a billion dollars for new road construction. It includes additional lanes, a new fly-over for the always backed up I-95 exit, and streamlined exits along the way.
Diaz explained, "If we don't do anything, with the increase in the population that we are expecting within the next 30 years, traffic will continue to get worse and worse and worse."
Garcia believes it will get worse... and you'll pay more for it. "I hope Miami is ready to be stuck in traffic and pay 50% more in tolls." Garcia said.
The Tree Mistake
Garcia sees it differently.
"A lot of people say it's a backdoor tax,"he said.
There certainly are some trust issues MDX is still dealing with.
"Well I would say after four years there is some skepticism," Garcia said. MDX has made some questionable decisions over the years.
The most visible is on the 874, also known as the Don Shula Expressway. It got a makeover a few years ago with some lush landscaping. According to MDX the expense was required by law. But many don't see why we needed dozens of exotic palm trees trucked in from Arizona for $8,000 dollars each
"When we end up seeing is $8,000 palm trees everywhere as far as the eye can see and we have extravagant unnecessary in my opinion landscaping. We need it to look nice but we don't need it to look Las Vegas, the Bellagio. It's a highway. I need it to get to work," Garcia said.
"With all this money that is being spent, that the traffic would be getting better? But it's not. It's getting worse."
When the tolls go up Saturday Cook said so will his invoices for customers. He expects his fellow contractors to follow suit.
"It's not just me. It's contractors, electricians, plumbers. It's anybody where it's their business getting in-between people's homes." he said. If you don't want to pay the toll there really is only one alternative. Get off the expressway. That might be difficult as thousands of likeminded drivers may be thinking the same thing when the tolls go live next week.
MDX said they are trying to relieve the pressure on drivers who use the roadway the heaviest. They have setup a rebate program that will give them back up to $120 dollars a year. They are also offering coupons for pizzas and oil changes.
For more information on the program go here: http://mdxway.com/clubmembers/dashboard
To learn more about Rollbacktolls go to www.rollbacktolls.com
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