By Jim DeFede

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The pandemic has been devastating in Florida.

Certain effects are obvious: The loss of life, the impact on local businesses, and an increasing number of families having trouble keeping food on their tables.

But there are also indirect effects. Some good, some bad.

Take for instance our roadways. When stay at home orders were announced in March and April, one of the benefits was a lack of traffic. An hour-long commute for those still on the road could suddenly be cut down to 20 minutes.

Fewer cars however also mean fewer tolls being collected.

A CBS Miami analysis reveals the state has lost almost $200 million in tolls this year.

Through a public records request, we obtained revenue figures for Florida’s turnpike and expressway system.

Between March 1st and October 31st, 2019, the state collected $718 million in tolls. During those same months in 2020, the state collected just $529 million in tolls. That’s a 36 percent drop in revenue.

“We did see a reduction in revenues,” said Kevin Thibault, the Florida Secretary of Transportation.

Asked if the system can absorb that loss and whether there are projects that won’t get done or get delayed, Thibault responded: “Current contracts didn’t get impacted. Really the question becomes future, we’ll know that in the next several weeks when they get to finalizing the work program what had to shift from a fiscal year ’22 to a fiscal year 23 project or whatever.”

The state used the traffic slowdown to speed up certain road projects

“There were hundreds of millions of dollars of contracts that we have accelerated,” he added. “Especially those projects in urban areas that we try not to impact the traffic during the day or during the rush hour so we would do nighttime operations we flipped them to daytime operations which tend to be a little more productive.”

The problem isn’t unique to the Florida Turnpike. We also looked at numbers for the Miami Dade Expressway Authority and found toll revenues are down more than $30 million because of the pandemic.

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CBS Miami also examined highway crashes. As you might imagine, fewer cars on the road meant fewer accidents. But there is a twist.

In 2019, between March 1st and November 30th, there were slightly more than 300,000 crashes across the state of Florida.

But following the lockdowns in 2020, that number dropped to 237,000 – a 21 percent drop

In Miami-Dade and Broward, the drop in total accidents was even larger.

Broward saw the total number of crashes drop from 41,114 in 2019 to roughly 31,000 so far this year.

In Miami-Dade, for all of 2019, the total number of crashes in Miami Dade was 65,143

As of mid-December 2020, that number plummeted to 45,919.

You would think that fewer accidents would mean fewer fatalities. But you would be wrong.

In Miami Dade, 298 people died in car accidents in all of 2019.

But by early December, the number of people who died had already surpassed 300. Why? Because investigators believe the lack of traffic has encouraged speeding and more reckless driving.

“Although there are fewer collisions, they are much more severe,” explained Lt. Alex Camacho, a spokesman for the Florida Highway Patrol. “When you have open roadways, coupled with people driving at a higher rate of speed, when you become involved in a collision at a higher rate of speed the severity of injuries, if not fatal, obviously increase drastically. We’ve all heard the phrase speed kills, and that is certainly a fact.”

Camacho said troopers are adjusting to the increase in fatalities by cracking down on speeders especially as we go through the holiday season.

Jim DeFede