Democratic congressional candidate Alan Grayson is ready to end your tolls on SR-408 in Central Florida, and maybe others too. As Grayson campaigns to return to Congress, he is campaigning on a platform of reducing costs for voters – a top issue considering the economic situation and inflation crisis – and ending the tolls is one of his top priorities.
Grayson has a reputation of getting things done during his time in Congress and he was able to return a lot of federal resources to his district. When it comes to ending tolls for Central Florida drivers, he says he won’t even wait until November to start working on it.
“The tolls should be eliminated immediately,” Grayson told West Orlando News. “I will start trying even before the November election, and I won’t let up until it’s done. As John Lewis once said about me, I ‘will never, ever, give up, give in, or give out.'”
Saying that tolls are an “extremely regressive way to pay for roads,” Grayson takes aim with some arguments from the Central Florida Expressway Authority in his detailed approach to end what he says over-charges local residents for their commute. He also said “the current system simply is a rip-off.”
So how would a member of Congress from Orlando end the tolls on SR-408? Grayson’s approach would be methodical but he’s also ready to escalate to get results.
“I would first approach the Expressway authority by letter to lay out the case for ending tolls on SR-408, as I did once before when I was in Congress,” Grayson said. “Then I would meet individually with each Board member, and offer to testify before the Board. If that were unsuccessful, then I would offer a bill and an amendment in Congress withholding federal transportation funds from states that impose tolls on roads that are fully paid-for.”
He also insists toll revenues on SR-408 are not needed to maintain the road. The Central Florida Expressway Authority told West Orlando News “to build and maintain our 125-mile expressway system, CFX relies on bonds supported by the tolls.” Grayson disagrees and laid out his reasons.
“According to the Expressway annual budget, its revenues are $514 million per year, and its costs are $286 million per year,” Grayson said. “The difference, i.e., $228 million, is what drivers are overcharged each year. This roughly $200 per year for every driver in Orange and Osceola Counties, whether they use the toll roads or not. On top of this, the Expressway has more than $700 million in accumulated overcharges from previous years that just sits there. The cost of maintaining SR-408 is approximately $2 million a year (i.e., one CFX road out of 9, and $18 million spent each year on maintenance). The money sitting in some dormant account from previous overcharges would be enough to pay SR-408 maintenance costs for the next 350 years. In fact, just the interest on those previous overcharges is more than adequate, forever.”
Grayson also said the notion that that much money would be needed for “maintenance” is quite implausible. He noted that every driver must pay $1 to $2 just to get on and off SR-408, and as much as $5.75 more while on it. “In fact, the actual cost per driver of road maintenance on SR-408 is less than a penny,” he claimed.
CFX also said that revenues from expressways like SR-408 stay local, reinvested into local projects in Brevard, Lake, Orange, Osceola, and Seminole counties. And, with the Board’s recent approval of a $4 billion five-year work plan, CFX is projected to create approximately 52,000 jobs in Central Florida and contribute $4.6 billion in economic activity. But Grayson is against the CFX expansion plan and says it is more important to save Orlando voters from paying for “roads 25 miles away that they will never use.”
“Regarding CFX’s expansion plan, which would cost $3,000 for every person in Orange and Osceola Counties, I’m against it,” Grayson told West Orlando News. “Essentially, CFX is building roads to nowhere. The traffic on the Daniel Webster Parkway, which Webster named after himself and which cost $70 million, is so low that CFX doesn’t even disclose it at its website. The only part of this expansion plan that has anything to do with the Congressional district is the proposed 1.5-mile extension of SR-414 on the Seminole border, which only a tiny fraction of people in the district would ever use, and that extension also is just unnecessary. If a road is worth building, then CFX can sell the bonds to pay for that road. If it’s not, then at least under the current regime, it should not be built. There is no logical rationale to charge people in downtown Orlando for roads 25 miles away that they will never use.”
In Central Florida politics, voters don’t often hear candidates openly speak about transportation alternatives like this. Grayson has made it a platform issue.
“I should add that tolls, in general, are an extremely regressive way to pay for roads, and that Florida has the highest tolls in America,” Grayson said. “I think that it’s a horrible idea to charge people up to $15.50 just to commute to work each day. For people earning the minimum wage, that’s a 20% tax. Regardless of whether one agrees with that or not, the current system simply is a rip-off, a way to divert $228 million each year out of our pockets to some bank account somewhere else that creates no jobs in Orlando, and purchases no goods and services in Orlando. It’s theft.”
Grayson is also assuring voters the system would not “collapse,” saying “each time a CFX toll road has been built – all 8 of them – the bondholders have been ensured that the revenue from that road would pay for the bonds for that road, until the bonds were paid off. That’s what the bondholders themselves require.”
“Since SR-408 bonds were paid off decades ago, their revenue is not needed anymore,” he continued. “It’s simplistic to say that ‘bonds [are] supported by the tolls;’ each bond for each road is supposed to be supported by the tolls from that road, which doesn’t apply to SR-408 anymore. It would be more accurate to say that SR-408 is the major over-charger in the system, rather than that it’s the major revenue generator in the system.”
Grayson is in a crowded Democratic primary for the Orlando congressional seat. There are a lot of Democrats trying to replace Rep. Demings in Congress in addition to Grayson, including: Natalie Jackson, former Rep. Corrine Brown, Maxwell Alejandro Frost, Randolph Bracy, Terrance Gray, Teresa Tachon, Khalid Muneer, Jack Achenbach, and Jeffrey Boone.