After three hours of public commentary and board discussions, the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority voted 7-5 in favor of a 70-cent toll fare on the Dolphin and Airport expressways Tuesday.
"It's a really big increase at a time where people can't afford it," said State Rep. Jose Diaz.
The board initially approved a rate of 70 cents per toll location in March. In April, the board voted to consider a measure to roll it back by 10 cents. That was considered and voted down on Tuesday.
Much of Diaz's district covers the Dolphin Expressway area. Diaz joined dozens of concerned citizens who urged MDX to have mercy given today's tough economic times.
"We have people that are barely affording their car insurance, barely affording their gasoline and now they're being asked to pay a lot more for their tolls," said Diaz.
"We shouldn't have to question whether can I take this road, or not take this road," added Carlos Garcia, who also spoke out against the $0.70 toll.
Some citizens at Tuesday's vote said they believe MDX officials made the right choice.
"We've seen the can kicked down the road on so many things in Miami-Dade County," said Lawrence Percival of southwest Miami-Dade. "Whether it's water and sewer issues, or whether it's our roads, which is what we're talking about today, and time is money."
MDX estimates the 70-cent fare will drive in $53 million dollars into the agency each year to help fund at least nine projects on the Dolphin Expressway – which is also called State Road 836 – and four other MDX-maintained highways. Newly elected MDX Chairman Maurice Ferre told NBC 6 the vote was a difficult one for the board.
"The difference between 60 and 70 cents – those 10 cents – would mean a $100 million less income that we very desperately need," Ferre said after the vote.
Currently, tolls are only collected going eastbound on the Airport Expressway near Miami, but further west, drivers are charged both ways. This summer, work will begin on removing tollbooths to make way for a highway-wide SunPass and Toll By Plate charging systems. Starting July 1, Toll By Plate drivers will see their rates double.
With the toll upgrade, there will be at least a dozen toll points along the highways. Officials say the new system will also ease bottlenecking and improve traffic flow on the Dolphin Expressway and on the Airport Expressway, which is also called State Road 112.