This piece originally appeared in the Tallahassee Democrat.
Florida’s population is expected to grow from the current 20 million to between 23 and 27 million by 2035. This increase will likely place significant pressure on roads and public transportation infrastructure to keep up with increasing demand for mobility.
Yet financing new road projects can be difficult for state and local governments, as the federal Highway Trust Fund often experiences budget shortages. According to the Heritage Foundation, the Highway Trust Fund pays for one-fourth of all public highway spending. Not surprisingly then, 68 percent of Florida’s road funding comes from state fuel taxes and revenue from state tolls.
The average Florida driver pays roughly 55 cents in taxes per gallon of gas and shells out $296 total in fuel taxes per year. Increasing gas taxes to bridge the gap in funding, however, is rarely popular among residents. Thus, Florida has resorted to building toll roads to supplement funds for road construction and maintenance. Now Florida boasts the highest number of toll roads in the country.
Until last April, state and local governments owned and operated all of Florida’s toll roads. In 2017, Tallahassee’s Orchard Pond Parkway challenged this precedent, becoming the first privately constructed and operated toll road in Florida.
More about Orchard Pond Parkway:
- Orchard Pond Parkway attracting eager motorists
- Orchard Pond Parkway opens to grand fanfare
- Private toll road intended to save nature, wildlife
The Orchard Pond Parkway is a 5.2-mile two-lane toll road that spans North Meridian and Old Bainbridge roads in Leon County and runs parallel to the existing Orchard Pond dirt road. The parkway helps alleviate traffic in the northeast area of the city and reduces travel time to the Tallahassee International Airport.
Road construction began January of 2015. Jeff Phipps, Tallahassee resident and owner of the land, contracted M of Tallahassee Inc. to build the road at a cost totaling around $17 million. Phipps also took out a 30-year loan from the Florida Department of Transportation of $13.5 million and invested $3 million of his own money to finance construction. Contractually Phipps is leasing the road from Leon County to operate and maintain for 99 years. Toll revenues go towards upkeep and paying off the loan.
Phipps designed the road to minimize its environmental impact. He used 45,000 pounds of recycled concrete to build the road and incorporated wildlife crossings to allow animals of different sizes to travel safely under or alongside the road. He also built an accompanying pedestrian-friendly bike trail on the old dirt road and plans to sell a part of his land to the state for conservation.
Private toll roads shift the burden of paying the prices of building, maintaining and financing roads to the private sector and its users. This means projects are chosen for their financial feasibility and profitability, and that the private sector is responsible for assessing project risk beforehand.
Public-private partnerships may be the solution to road construction and maintenance amidst budget shortages and population growth. The success of Orchard Pond Parkway can serve as a model for increased public-private partnerships within Florida and the rest of the nation.
Giovanna da Silva is a senior history major at Florida State University and blog content manager for the DeVoe L. Moore Center in the College of Social Sciences & Public Policy.
The featured images is from the Tallahassee Democrat.