A bill that would set a cap on toll roads in Miami-Dade County has passed the full House. Bill sponsor Hialeah Republican Representative Bryan Avila says what the Expressway Authority is not doing its job.
“What’s been going on down there has been a travesty. So with your help members we can help correct that,” said Avila.
What Representative Bryan Avila is speaking of are the actions the Miami-Dade County Expressway Authority known as MDX.
Avila brought House members up to speed.
“We can go back to 2014 when they closed the system, doubled their tolling and doubled their revenues. That was off our backs,” said Avila.
And that’s just the start.
“We fast forward to 2017 when this chamber, this legislature, and the governor signed into law a reform bill. Reforming MDX, but also calling for a toll reduction. What did MDX do they went a year without complying to state law. Now if you or I went a year without complying to state law obviously you or I would be in jail,” said Avila.
In fact, he says they didn’t begin to comply until he called them out.
"To top that off it essentially took a letter from me. A very stern letter as my good friend Rep. Grant would remind me. Probably a letter that not too many people would write. Where I essentially called them outlaws and that adherence to the rule of law should never be optional,” said Avila.
Avila says that year of not complying cost the residents of Miami-Dade County around 16 million dollars in tolls.
They then sued the state.
"Claiming that the state has no authority to tell them whether they could or could not increase or decrease rates. Fast forward a couple months later, December of last year. What does MDX do? They do away with their rebate program and they blame it on the Florida Legislature,” said Avila.
Avila says when he filed the bill MDX reacted by reinstalling the rebate program, and vowing to not raise tolls.
“Now just looking at that you can certainly tell that they don’t have the public’s best interest at heart. I would argue they probably have their contractor’s best interest at heart,” said Avila.
The bill Avila filed would abolish the Expressway Authority and create the Greater Miami Expressway Agency. Its members would take an oath to honestly, faithfully, and impartially perform their duties. If any signs of misconduct occur, members can be terminated/fined by the Governor. The bill also caps tolls at $1.25 per mile until 2029.
The money from the tolls is supposed to be re-invested into the roadways in the forms of ramps, lighting and other improvements along with maintenance. Something Avila says the authority hasn’t done much of.
“The only expansion has been a 2-mile stretch connecting the skeleton to the airport and a portion of that funding came from the state,” said Avila.
Other members of the legislature agree the expressway authority is a problem. Democratic Representative Shevrin Jones whose district is in Broward County, is one of them.
“I know for a fact that MDX has totally abused their powers, and abused the process, and abused the individuals who ride on those roads. Individuals licenses being suspended. Individuals getting bills that they are not aware of all under MDX. So I understand what you’re trying to do,” said Jones.
But House Minority Leader Representative Kionne McGhee who lives in Miami-Dade County says this should be dealt with at the local level.
“Transparency and holding folk accountable in our local government, those are the core principles that we should aspire to succeed and do and ensure that our communities are taken care of. But again there has to be a better way, if MDX is the problem, allow the local people to deal with MDX,” said McGhee.
Still, Avila believes because the impact is so large on residents in south Florida it actually does impact the entire state.
“The average Miami-Dade County resident spends 105 hours a year in traffic. What does that equate to, that equates to 4 billion dollars lost in economic activity to the state of Florida. So, when people say that because this is a Miami-Dade issue it shouldn’t affect the state. I would certainly argue that if you have an issue that affects Miami-Dade County it affects the state,” said Avila.
A similar bill in the Senate is waiting to be heard on the floor.