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Bill's language to move from mandatory to optional increases on expressway tolls

TALLAHASSEE — Hate it when tolls rise on local expressways?

Until Friday, the Florida Legislature was poised to require roads governed by expressway authorities to jump every five years to match inflation.

Plus, the Florida Senate wants to increase tolls for the Florida Turnpike system by 25 percent in July.

Tucked into transportation bills (HB 1399 and SB 1978) with little notice, both chambers had agreed to the language requiring expressway authorities — such as the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway that connects Tampa to Brandon — to index its tolls to inflation.

The provision came at the behest of some expressway boards who said it would make it easier to persuade creditors to lend them money at lower rates.

But after learning the increase would be mandatory, Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City, said Friday he plans to change the language so that boards would have the option to index to inflation. He sponsored the provision with Sen. Carey Baker, R-Eustis.

"That puts it back into the locals' hands," Glorioso said.

Lindsay Hodges, a spokeswoman for the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority, said credit agencies offer lower borrowing costs if they see a predictable, growing stream of income to fund construction projects.

"We're talking about pennies," in increased tolls, Hodges said. "But those pennies add up."

Legislators approved a similar law for the Florida Turnpike last year.

In the Senate, the transportation bill also proposes a 25 percent increase for the Turnpike system, that includes the Veterans Expressway and Suncoast Parkway in Hillsborough County.

The champion of the Turnpike toll hike is Senate Majority Leader Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden, who says the extra money is desperately needed to build more roads.

"It's $3-billion worth of projects," he said. "We have an economy that's somewhat losing ground, and it also is infrastructure that we're going to need when our economy bounces back. I think it's a great way to get people working and people moving."

Webster's proposal would increase the cost of driving the Suncoast Parkway from the Oak Hammock entrance to the Veterans Expressway exit at the Courtney Campbell causeway from $4.75 to nearly $6.

Glorioso said he needs to learn more about why Webster thinks tolls need to be increased on the Turnpike before deciding whether he'll support inserting the language in the House bill.

"We've had the philosophy in the House all year long that we weren't going to raise fees or taxes to balance our budget," he said.

Steve Bousquet and David DeCamp contributed to this report. Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Bill's language to move from mandatory to optional increases on expressway tolls 04/25/08 [Last modified: Sunday, April 27, 2008 9:09am]
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