BRADENTON, Fla. – The Florida Department of Transportation is preparing to raise tolls to help finance $1.8 billion of road improvement projects.
The average toll rate will increase 25 cents on June 24 for customers with electronic transponders and those who pay in cash on state-owned toll bridges and the 460-mile Florida Turnpike Enterprise.
Some tolls haven’t been raised in many years. The upcoming network-wide increase will be the first of its kind based on the consumer-price index with inflation driving future increases.
“The additional revenues collected as part of the toll rate indexing will provide transportation funding to provide much needed relief to already congested corridors,” said Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, executive director for the Turnpike Enterprise. “This will be accomplished by adding lanes and converting toll booths to an all-electronic system resulting in the added benefit of improved safety.”
Gov. Rick Scott is currently reviewing the transportation capital plan now and will determine how much of the program will be bond-financed, according to Turnpike spokeswoman, Christa Deason.
“Because our capital plan is currently under review, we can’t say right now which projects will be bonded,” she said.
The governor has the final say over the projects that receive funding.
The Turnpike Enterprise has $2.9 billion of outstanding bonds rated AA-minus by Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor’s, and Aa3 by Moody’s Investors Service. All three agencies have stable outlooks on the credit.
After experiencing two consecutive years of declines, toll transactions increased by 2.1% in fiscal 2011 and 1.4% in 2010, according to a report in May by Fitch analyst Chad Lewis.
For the first nine months of the current fiscal year, transactions are approximately 1.6% higher than the same period in 2011.
Though the Turnpike’s work program is under review, Lewis said an estimated $130 million of bonds is expected to be issued later this year to meet existing construction funding requirements for projects currently underway.
The Turnpike’s $3.2 billion work program was expected to be split between maintenance and capital improvement projects. Planned debt under the program was estimated at $670 million.
“While a number of possible changes could occur and the ultimate size and scope of a new program are still uncertain, Fitch expects the Turnpike will delicately balance borrowing associated with the program while maintaining historically robust [debt service coverage] ratios and strong financial flexibility,” Lewis said.