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State To Consider Adding Toll Lanes To Non-Highway Roads

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MIAMI (CBS4)- Commuters who enjoy toll free drives down non-highway roads in South Florida may have to pay up. That’s because state transportation officials are considering to add tolls on some roadways.

The Florida Department of Transportation announced on Thursday that they will be conducting a study in the coming months to consider adding tolls on specific roads in Palm Beach and Broward counties. The roads being considered in the study include State Road 7 from Sample Road in Broward County to Glades Road in Palm Beach County and Glades Road from State Road 7 east to U.S. Highway 1 in Boca Raton.

The department said it is looking for innovative ways to manage congestion, and this could be attractive for commuters who imagine a traffic- free morning or evening commute on U.S. 1 in South Dade.

Cindy Polo with the Miami Dade Expressway Authority explained, “We have heard from the community that the existing bus corridor is not as effective as it could be and so as we partner up with these agencies we able to maximize the existing resource and not just necessarily build a new highway.”

Next month, it will launch a three-year study of U.S. 441 in the two counties and Glades Road in Boca Raton that will consider, among other things, adding HOV or toll lanes to them.

Additionally, premium transit service – including bus rapid transit that is a faster could also be established using the exclusive lanes.

No numbers are being thrown around yet, but a previous study CBS4 discovered suggested commuters would pay $ .75 cents in the middle of the day and up to $4.25 during morning and evening commutes.

With a similar effort being considered in Miami-Dade County, they are among the first attempts in Florida to apply such ideas to major, non-expressway roads.

Not everyone is on board with the possible toll changes, and some have mixed feelings.

“All of us taxpayers pay for that,” Angelo Clanotus told CBS4′s David Sutta. “We should get to use it. We shouldn’t have to pay extra.”

But Patti Bared said it could help traffic.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Barad said. “They’re already on I-95 and I think it’s alleviated a lot of traffic.”

Meanwhile, commuter Christina Cunetta was concerned about the impact express lanes would have on the area.

“We need a multi-faceted community,” she said. “Not just cars ripping through here like we are I-95.”

Although some commuters may not agree with the move, South Florida transportation planners said express lanes on local roads could provide needed relief.

“The [U.S. 441] and Glades Road projects are simply the beginning of building a solid foundation for our future,” said Gregor Senger, an FDOT transit development project manager. “We can no longer focus on simply adding general-use lanes to congested corridors. We need to be more progressive in our thinking.”

The study of U.S. 441 – also known as State Road 7 – is part of an ongoing effort to transform that regional thoroughfare into a major transit corridor. Both Broward and Palm Beach counties have developed transportation plans that require two dedicated bus lanes on 441.

Glades is considered an important east-west link to Florida’s Turnpike, Interstate 95, Tri-Rail and the FEC railroad, where future passenger service is being studied. Together, the two thoroughfares are considered a major regional transportation network.

The state will also consider adding HOV or toll lanes either in the medians or as outside lanes of both roads. Buses or other forms of mass transit could also use those lanes.

In Miami- Dade County, transportation planners are studying ways to bring express lanes to the busway that parallels U.S. 1 between the Dadeland Mall and Homestead.

The plan could involve widening the U.S. 1 busway to four lanes from two, and allowing solo drivers to buy their way out of congestion by paying tolls that would rise and fall depending on traffic volume. Buses and carpools would use the lanes for free.

The existing two-lane, 20-mile busway is reserved for Miami-Dade Transit express buses, which have the ability to keep traffic signals green as they approach intersections. But the busway has created frustration for drivers who sit in traffic on U.S. 1 only to look over to see no vehicles running on the busway.

Senger said that’s why dedicated bus lanes alone might not work. They tend to be underutilized, especially in areas that don’t have enough density to support transit.

Senger foresees express lanes first on Glades Road and U.S. 441, and then providing premium transit when redevelopment on 441 increases density in the area to the point where it can support rapid transit.

Transportation officials point out that express lanes could save gasoline and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by allowing drivers to avoid stop-and-go traffic and shorten commutes.

The state plans a number of public meetings seeking input from residents, businesses and elected officials. After the studies are complete, FDOT expects to have a plan for improving those roads.

The State Road 7 study will cost $5 million, and the Glades Road study will cost $2.5 million, according to FDOT officials. The study is expected to last at least two years, and public forums will be held for the community to weigh in on the developments.

(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald contributed material for this report)

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