Florida bill would increase turnpike tolls, among other things

| 4/29/2008

As the end of the regular session draws near, a massive transportation bill would boost tolls on the Florida Turnpike. The bill – S1978 – includes other tolling provisions along with limiting left lane use for all drivers.

The Senate Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations Committee voted 4-1 to advance a 117-page bill for consideration before the full Senate that would authorize toll rates on the turnpike system to increase by 25 percent starting July 1.

For five-axle trucks, cash customers would pay about $80 to drive the 309-mile trip from Interstate 75 to Florida City. Those vehicles now pay about $64.25. SunPass users would pay about $63, compared to about $50.75 now.

Cash paying passenger vehicles would pay nearly $27 – up from about $21. SunPass customers would pay about $21. Currently, they pay nearly $17.

Supporters say higher tolls are needed to generate revenue to widen and build more highways.

In addition to the rate increase on the turnpike, expressway authorities throughout the state would be required to increase tolls at least every five years to keep pace with inflation.

Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City, said he plans to revise the provision he attached to the bill to give expressway boards the option to index tolls to inflation, the St. Petersburg Times reported.

The state also could lease the part of I-75 that’s referred to as Alligator Alley for up to 50 years to help pay for road work.

The Florida Department of Transportation unveiled plans this spring to lease the toll road to private investors. An analysis said that leasing the 78-mile stretch of interstate would earn the state $500 million for a 50-year lease.

A separate provision in the bill is intended to combat aggressive driving, or “road rage,” on the state’s multilane highways by reducing the number of drivers in the far left lane.

It would give law enforcement officers more authority to ticket drivers who block traffic, even if they are driving the speed limit in the left lane. A failure to stay to the right would be included as one of the offenses that make up “aggressive careless driving.”

Travelers would be prohibited from driving in the left lane of a multilane highway when they are about to be overtaken by another vehicle.

Opponents say the effort is “code for increasing speed limits” and supports the actions of speeding drivers running up behind slower drivers. Supporters say the measure would avert dangerous situations where frustrated motorists stuck behind a slower-moving vehicle try to pass on the right.

Violators would face $100 fines. Repeat offenders would face as much as $500 in fines. Drivers also would receive points in their licenses for each offense committed.

If approved in the Senate, the bill would move to the House for consideration. All work is scheduled to be wrapped up at the statehouse by Friday, May 2.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Florida in 2008, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor