Expressway Authority power shift could influence toll hikes

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CENTRAL FLORIDA - There is concern that a major power shift at the Expressway Authority could make the difference in whether tolls will go up again in a few years.

Its leaders are worried the push to create a regional toll agency next year will shift more funds outside Orange County.

The next toll hike is set for July 2017.

The last two hikes detoured many drivers off toll roads, but revenues are recovering, and if it keeps up, the toll agency could postpone the hike. 

"We certainly want to do it and we will do it. I don't want anything to get in the way of that. I don't want anyone to come in and start spending our money on other projects," said Expressway Authority Chairman Walter Ketcham.

The board members are from Orange County.

Ketcham said he worries that if state lawmakers add Lake, Osceola and Seminole counties to the agency next year, they will get more than their fair share of toll money.

More than half comes from Orange, and only a third as much comes from drivers in Lake, Osceola and Seminole counties altogether.

The percentage of drivers per county who pay tolls are: Orange County: 57 percent, Lake County: 5 percent, Osceola County: 5 percent and Seminole County 11 percent.

State Senator David Simmons of Altamonte Springs said the other three counties deserve a voice, and the senate bill 2030 master plan shows even more toll road expansion into their turf.

Simmons' senate bill would give Orange County five votes on the board and two votes to each new county.  

WFTV asked whether a power shift could lead to a shift in priorities and make a 2017 toll hike necessary.

"I can guarantee that Orange County will have a big say in whatever is done," said Simmons. "All it does is ask that Orange County cooperate, compromise and deal regionally with their sister counties."

Whatever the effect on toll payers, WFTV was told incoming state Senator Andy Gardiner has the support to totally change the Expressway Authority as we've known it for the last 50 years. 

Simmons expects the State Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee to consider his bill in January, which is also when the toll agency's new executive director will be chosen.