New tolls hinder state deficit
Published: Sunday, July 1, 2012
Updated: Monday, July 2, 2012 09:07
Transportation policy is expected to change dramatically in Florida in the coming years with the potential addition of “Lexus Lanes,” or express toll lanes, on Interstate 4. The project has been discussed for several years and was finally pushed through Congress last week. President Barack Obama is expected to sign the bill.
With Florida’s debt at a staggering $27.7 billion, according to The Florida Current, now hardly seems the appropriate time to entertain the idea of unstable projects. Sure, it will probably speed things up during rush hour, and sure, it is more than likely that affluent drivers will opt for the express lanes. But what percentage of Central Florida does that description include? Under the new plan, it has been asserted that if tolls were put in place, the charge would fluctuate depending on the time of day. Motorists would be charged by the flow of traffic. How many drivers will actually opt to pay? Will the projected $2.3 billion project actually be a viable one? It seems unlikely.
If officials such as U.S. Rep. John Mica (R-FL) are so gung-ho to push through legislation for projects that are less than 50 percent funded, why couldn’t they be projects that will actually enhance the state economy, like the SunRail? Or here’s an idea: Shouldn’t we finish projects that are already in motion before starting new ones? WFTV reported in 2009 that funding had dried up for the in-progress I-4 interchange that would feed traffic onto state road 408 from both directions. The remaining work for the ramps is estimated to cost $500 million; a chunk of change that was estimated wouldn’t be available until 2013 at the earliest.
If reducing traffic is the goal, maybe transportation officials should look at additions that actually work. The Semoran Boulevard overpass is a perfect example. The intersection of state road 50 and Semoran has been long touted as one of the most dangerous intersections in the city. The overpass serves to not only reduce congestion in the area but also hopefully the number of accidents.
Viaducts and double-decker highways in other predominant commuter cities such as Los Angeles have successfully alleviated traffic congestion. Critics of expanding I-4 have cited the lack of room as a reason to not expand, but the most logical conclusion to this dilemma is if you can’t build out, then build up. That $857 million would certainly go a long way to aiding in the reduction of traffic on I-4, and with the recent hike in toll prices on the 408, it hardly seems fair to tell taxpayers, “Sure, you can get to where you’re going faster, but we’re going to charge you for it.” The bottom line stands: Florida legislators need to seriously reconsider the ventures they have not only undertaken, but also rejected before hastily attempting to pile on more.
Anyone interested in writing a column for the Opinions section at the Central Florida Future can contact the Opinions Editor, Kaley LaQuea, at firstname.lastname@example.org.