Use of Miami-Dade toll roads dips this year amid poor economic conditions
By Scott E. Pacheco
Drivers are using Miami-Dade toll roads less this year, and officials are citing the economy and less truck traffic as the reason.
"The discretionary driving is what's being minimized," said Javier Rodriguez, executive director of the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, also known as MDX, which oversees SR 112 Airport Expressway, SR 836 Dolphin Expressway, SR 874 Don Shula Expressway, SR 878 Snapper Creek Expressway and SR 924 Gratigny Parkway.
Mr. Rodriguez reports that while daytime traffic has held steady from the same point last year, nighttime and weekend driving has dipped about 4%.
"Traditionally, our traffic has grown between 6% and 7% annually," he said. "Last year it flattened. It peaked between last year and this year, which coincides with gas prices."
The average daily traffic for the expressway authority's roadways in July 2007 was 321,496 vehicles. It dipped to 309,444 this July, down 3.75%.
The south Florida Turnpike and Sawgrass Expressway toll roads also have had a decrease in usage, said Sonyha Rodriguez-Miller, spokesperson for Florida's Turnpike Enterprise, which oversees the two highways.
"We have noticed a 4% decrease in '08 over '07 in traffic and revenue and we attribute that mainly to a reduced number of trucks using the turnpike system. Maybe we could say that with the economy, businesses may be not doing as well, said Ms. Rodriguez-Miller, citing unofficial numbers.
At its heaviest traffic site, which is the stretch between Southwest Eighth Street (Tamiami Trail) and SR 836, the Turnpike averages about 178,000 vehicles daily.
And because toll roads rely on tolls for revenues, any drop in traffic decreases funds. Add in an increase in SunPass use, which allows drivers to go through more toll stations at a lower cost, and revenues dip a little further, both Mr. Rodriguez and Ms. Rodriguez-Miller said.
"People using SunPass on our system — they generally pay a lower rate," Ms. Rodriguez-Miller said. "It's due to our own hand."
But both the expressway authority and Florida's Turnpike Enterprise have taken steps to fiscally prepare themselves for fluctuations.
The expressway authority's revenues now are projected to come in at 2% less than its $110 million plan. But Mr. Rodriguez said the organization has reserves, and will make decisions like not filling a vacancy to ensure that all services to motorists are held at the same level or increased. The authority also can encourage drivers to use its roadways as a means to bring funds in by making them the best roads to travel.
"We can't control the cost of gas, but you can control the cost of how fast people get from one place to another," he said.
Ms. Rodriguez-Miller said the decreased traffic flow could become a problem at some point if the trend continues.
"The budget is not that tight because we know there are fluctuations," she said. "We always plan. It may come a time where we may need to push back some projects."