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More Tampa drivers paying to avoid traffic

Posted at 4:44 PM, Apr 19, 2016

No one wants to pay extra to drive on a road, but these days, more people are.

“There’s the aggravation, and I think you’ve got to put a cost on that because traffic can be really aggravating,” says Garrett McNamara to ABC Action News.

McNamara is part of a growing trend of people in the Tampa Bay area who use a toll road to avoid traffic on regular roads.

“If you’re in traffic — unexpected traffic, I should say — it’ll ruin your day,” said McNamara, who drives all over Florida for his job in the cruise line industry.

“Because you miss one meeting you’ve got to push the next meeting,” he adds. “I guess there could technically be unexpected traffic on the Selmon [Expressway] but it’s not like this,” said McNamara, referring to the congestion on Adamo Drive and U.S. 60.

In 2014, the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority made 38,057 “toll transactions,” and in 2015, that number was up to 48,754.

That 25 percent increase led the entire nation.

“It’s a big number and people need to pay attention to it,” says Dr. Steve Polzin of the Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR) on the campus of USF.

“We’ve seen a significant rebound in travel demand and it’s not unique to Florida,” Dr. Polzin told ABC Action News. The transit researcher and former HART board member says a rebounding economy and lower gas prices have a lot to do with that 25 percent increase.

He also says a booming population is putting more stress on the current infrastructure.

“Where we struggle is capacity!” Polzin said. “We’re growing fast as a state, we’re growing about twice the national rate of growth. Obviously you can’t do that too many years in a row without having a big problem.”

Polzin means Florida will need to either invest in more highways or in public transportation or both, or risk seriously hurting the quality of life of the Tampa Bay area community.

The Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority currently includes the Selmon Expressway, the Selmon Greenway, the Brandon Expressway and Meridian Avenue.

Here is the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association’s new study:  http://ibtta.org/sites/default/files/documents/MAF/2016_NationalTollFacilitiesUsageAnalysis.pdf

Nationwide, according to the new study, driving is up about 3.5 percent but toll road usage is up 7 percent.

Here is the Top 10 list of toll company growth from 2014 to 2015 (Florida authorities in bold):

  • Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority, FL: 25 percent
  • North Carolina Department of Transportation: 25 percent
  • Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, Austin: 23.4 percent
  • Georgia's State Road and Tollway Authority: 19.6 percent
  • Washington State Department of Transportation: 16 percent
  • I-15 Express Lanes, San Diego: 15 percent
  • 495 Express Lanes, Northern VA: 15 percent
  • Northwest Parkway, Broomfield, CO: 13 percent
  • E-470 Public Highway Authority, Aurora, CO: 12.4 percent
  • Central Florida Expressway Authority: 10 percent