Severe Weather Blog

A desire to resume road tolls after the storm. The governor had something else in mind

A toll sign on the Snapper Creek Expressway Kendall.
A toll sign on the Snapper Creek Expressway Kendall. Miami Herald

With Hurricane Matthew safely past Miami-Dade, the county’s tolling authority asked to resume charging drivers on Friday. Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s administration rejected that request.

At a Friday morning briefing, Scott said he denied a request by the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority to resume tolls, which were suspended statewide in advance of Matthew. He said he wanted to keep state roads toll free until the storm crisis had passed.

In an interview, Mario Diaz, spokesman for the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, described a confusing back-and-forth between state transportation officials and the local agency. He said the Transportation Department contacted MDX Director Javier Rodriguez this morning and said he should email a written request to lift the toll suspension enacted Wednesday as Matthew threatened the Miami area with tropical-storm winds. It was part of a statewide lifting of tolls as more northern areas of Florida’s East Coast ordered evacuations of coastal regions.

When MDX sent the requested email, Diaz said, “we were told no.”

“We never really wanted to make that initial request,” he said. “But we were asked to make it so they could consider it.”

The rare freezing of tolls for MDX, which falls under state authority but is overseen by a board of state and county appointees, means a loss of revenue used to pay for maintenance and cover debt payments on construction projects. The agency collects about $500,000 on an average day on its five highways, including State Road 836, which is best known as The Dolphin. But with schools, government offices and major employers closed Thursday and Friday, traffic has been significantly lighter.

At the request of the Miami Herald, Diaz provided an email exchange between Rodriguez and Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, director of Florida’s Turnpike system. Rodriguez asked to start charging tolls again by 11 a.m. Gutierrez-Scaccetti wrote Florida’s transportation secretary endorsing MDX’s request. But Secretary Jim Boxold wrote back at 8:50 a.m., denying permission to lift tolls in Miami-Dade.

“We will not reinstate tolls any sooner than 24 hours after storm conditions have passed in that county,” he wrote. “We will assess this request later.”

Miami Herald staff writer Julie Brown and Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report.