Falling tax collections have Florida DOT thinking tolls

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ORANGE CITY, Fla.,None —

Transportation officials are warning about major shortfalls because of a huge drop in taxes collected from gas sales and car registrations.

New numbers show that gas tax collections are down by more than $15 million this year.

The falling revenue stream has forced the Florida Department of Transportation to reduce its revenue projections over the next five years by nearly $900 million.

It means that what the DOT can't get at the pump, it hopes to help make up in tolls after you leave the station.

Gas taxes, vehicle titles and registration fees fuel the state transportation trust fund that allows the DOT to repair and  build new roads.

But new  projections show DOT won't have as much money as it thought it would to complete projects  around the state. The forecast for this fiscal year strips $118 million from the DOT’s budget.

And the way some of us drive is partly to blame.

“I have to go to work, and the obligations where you're doing stuff on your free time … you don't have money for free time. Just gas for work,” driver Doneis Lamar said.

Other motorists are simply driving  more fuel-efficient vehicles.  And the state isn't issuing new tags at the pace it once did.

So, the DOT has plans for  another funding source: tolls for all new state roads and major bridge projects.

"Not all of these roads will be toll feasible, per se, but anything we can do to help maintain our great infrastructure that we have currently," DOT Secretary Ananth Prasad said.

DOT officials said they think it could be feasible for Central Florida.  The DOT wants to increase capacity along I-4 by creating special use lanes for those willing to pay the toll along a 20-mile   stretch from roughly Kirkman Road in Orange County to just east of State Road 434 in Seminole County.

To be clear, the DOT told WFTV that any existing general use lanes on  I-4 would remain toll free.

“I really think the more toll roads they make, people will find different routes. Because tolls are expensive on top of gas  prices,” driver Jodi Schnacky said.

DOT officials said they don’t believe that tolls alone will fill the gap left by fuel-efficient vehicles.

Transportation officials are also talking about public/private partnerships to pave new state roads.