THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Nov. 15, 2011 -
David Royse, The News Service of Florida
The state Department of Transportation plan to try to replace dwindling gas tax revenue with additional tolling ability, particularly for express lanes, will be part of the department's agency bill when it emerges, a committee heard Tuesday.
The DOT's omnibus agency bill, containing much of its legislative agenda, won't likely be filed until the deadline for filing bills, the first day of the legislative session in January, to allow for changes to be made without having to do it in the formal committee process through amendments. But the House Transportation and Highway Safety Committee held a workshop Tuesday on what's likely to be in the bill.
While much of the measure will deal with ports, one of the most high profile parts of the bill is expected to give the agency the ability to levy tolls on new lanes added to state highways, or for new infrastructure such as bridges.
The DOT has said for several months that it envisions additional tolling authority as a major part of its solution to the drop in gas tax revenue that the state has seen. That drop is blamed in large part on the increasing fuel efficiency of vehicles.
Several observers have also noted that in the current anti-tax atmosphere Republican leaders in the House and Senate, and Gov. Rick Scott, are all stridently opposed to raising any taxes increasing the tax rates on gasoline to make up for reduced usage is unlikely.
With much of the state's transportation infrastructure depending on gas tax revenue, the state would face a need to reduce its construction and maintenance without some sort of alternative source of money.
"The current way of (relying mostly on) taxes for roads is unsustainable," said Rep. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, who will carry the DOT bill. "Gas tax collections are dropping, yet our infrastructure needs continue to grow.To the extent we don't do this, we will have to either go and raise gas taxes or find another source of revenue."
Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad, who has pushed for the additional tolling authority, has said that DOT only plans to pursue tolls on new roads or bridges, or new lanes, particularly express lanes that would be added to roadways, giving drivers a choice to pay a toll to take a lane that might be congestion free. State transportation officials also say that new express lanes benefit even those who don't use them, by reducing congestion in other lanes from which express lane users are removed.
Tolling roads, though, has been controversial. A plan to build a new partial ring highway in the Jacksonville area has drawn some opponents because officials plan to pay for it with tolls. Jacksonville voters in the late 1980s rejected tolls on local bridges, voting instead to pay for them with a new half cent sales tax.
But at the time, much of the objection to the tolls was said to be the lines that formed at toll booths. Most new toll roads would likely involve automatic tolling through SunPass-type devices or license plate photos, state officials have said, thus removing lines from toll plazas.