Orlando toller votes to confirm toll increases, adopt no-politics policy
By Peter Samuel
Orlando Orange County (Toll) Expressway Authority's board of directors voted unanimously this week to confirm toll increases provisionally voted at the February meeting. The toll hike occurs amid a storm of controversy in the interim after revelation of abuses by Allan Keen, a former chairman, and the use of major OOCEA consultant/contractor PBS&J to hit on vendors for political campaign contributions for Republican candidates 2003 to 2006.
The board this week approved a new policy on political activity that prohibits any board member, employee or consultant from seeking political campaign contributions from any vendor. In 2004 a policy was adopted that merely prohibited "coercing" contributions from vendors. That is now strengthened to a prohibition on discussion and requests.
Also any contributions actually made by vendors to board members running for office have to be publicly disclosed.
The solicitations and contributions 2003-2006 were uncovered as a result of a state attorney's investigation into corruption at the authority. No charges were filed but a grand jury report said the pressure of solicitations had created the atmosphere of "pay to play" among vendors.
New policy on political activity at OOCEA, a 4 page pdf:
No moves on PBS&J or on Mike Snyder
Despite previous threats, there were no moves against CEO Mike Snyder or against major consultant/contractor PBS&J at the March board meeting.
HNTB gets T&R contract
The OOCEA board approved HNTB as traffic and revenue (T&R) consultant for three years. Also bidding was T&R leader Wilbur Smith and Associates which was ranked second. Scores were HNTB 90, 94, 98, WSA 85, 85, 93.
Manhour rates are to be negotiated. The contact payment is not to exceed $2.25m.
Toll increases affirmed for April 5
The meeting affirmed an increase of about a third in toll rates - most mainline plaza tolls going from 75c to $1.00.
The toll increases will go into effect April 5.
From 2012 on the Authority will adjust tolls according to the consumer price index, electronic tolls being the actual CPI increase, cash tolls being rounded to the nearest 25c.
Tolls per mile go from the range 7.6c to 11.4c/mile now to the range 10c to 15c/mile.
Average tolls go from about 9c to 12c/mile.
The last toll increases were in July 1990 when most mainline plazas went up 25c, most from 50c to 75c.
report on first toll rates vote:
Traffic and revenue down 8%
Toll revenue at OOCEA in the first eight months of the financial year was at an annual $189m vs $206m in FY2008, a decline of 8.2%.
OOCEA budgeted for revenues of $205m and is 7.8% below budget. Feb 2009 was $15,324k vs $17,137k 2008Feb a decline of 10.6% but allowing the leap year days difference the decline was less: $15,324k vs $16,546k or 7.4% down.
OOCEA are cutting their operations, maintenance and administration costs this year from a budgeted $59.6m to $53.1m or almost 11%. Still with revenues down from $224.3m to a now expected $201.3m (down 10.2%), net revenues will be $158m vs a planned $176m, a drop of 10%. Debt service takes $121m, leaving only $37m toward capital programs vs a budgeted $57m.
Unemployment in the Orlando area was steady and below 5% until April 2008 but has climbed strongly since then to over 8% now.
Traffic which had been about level with same-month-the-year-before for some months moved into the 5% to 10% below range from May 2008 on. The drop in traffic coincided with the upward trend in unemployment, and the April to November 2008 runup in gasoline prices.
Capital program supported
Higher tolls will support an accelerated capital program. FL414 in the northwest will be completed to US441 and there will be major widening and upgrades of FL408 and FL417 and improvements to complex interchanges where they intersect east of Orlando.
Wekiva Parkway, the biggest new project in the region at $1.8b will be advanced, and three existing OOCEA pikes will be widened and interchanges rebuilt for improved safety and throughput. (see map below)
Massachusetts a "cautionary tale" says chairman
OOCEA chairman Rich Crotty said the repercussions from the Massachusetts Turnpike board decision to cancel a previously voted toll increase were a "cautionary tale" for other tollers. Rating agencies are downgrading the Mass Pike debt toward junk status and the authority looks likely to be absorbed into a new state conglomerate.
Unlike Mass Pike, OOCEA has never been manipulated into incurring debt to fund projects with no supporting revenue stream, a strategic disaster with the Big Dig in Boston, and likely to prove fatal to the New England authority.