The High-Occupancy Toll Lanes and Express Lanes Bill (HB 777), phasing out existing toll lanes once related bonds had been paid off and prohibiting new toll lanes, ran out of gas during the House Transportation Committee meeting yesterday.
The bill, filed by Matt Willhite (D-Royal Palm Beach), failed on an 8-6 vote, although many members voting no indicated interest in addressing tollway issues in the future.
Willhite, a fire captain, cited safety concerns with the lanes, including cars being trapped and unable to exit the lanes if traffic is blocked due to an accident. Representatives Kristin Diane Jacobs (D-Coconut Creek) and Barbara Watson (D-Miami Gardens) also weighed in with concerns about express lanes.
Jacobs said that toll lanes in South Florida have become a “cash cow” for the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) as well as a hazard, with narrower lanes and bottlenecks at transition points. “I’ve witnessed a nightmare of traffic problems as people are approaching a toll lane,” Jacobs said.
Referring to the express lanes as “Lexus lanes,” Watson said too much money is being assessed to residents who have already paid for these roadways through their taxes.
According to Jacobs, in some places FDOT didn’t add new lanes, simply restriped existing lanes, converting them to toll lanes and using the revenues to shore up the agency’s budget as gas tax revenues have waned. She said FDOT is proposing toll lanes on some surface roads as well. “The proliferation of toll lanes is happening unchecked,” Jacobs said. “It’s not just a matter of safety, it’s bad public policy.”
Another bill on tollways, Expressways (HB 1387), filed by Representative Jeanette M. Nuñez (R-Miami) unanimously passed the House Transportation Committee yesterday. Her bill would require FDOT to provide, where feasible, more access and exit points for express lanes and to adjust tolls down to zero when the average speed of vehicles traveling in an express lane is equivalent to or less than that of vehicles traveling in adjacent non-express lanes.
Nuñez said she was open to amendment of HB 1387 that could address some of the issues outlined in Willhite’s failed bill.