Hazouri fears Jacksonville won't benefit from new tolls

Tolls were demolished in 1989, replaced with sales tax

By Crystal Moyer - Traffic/reporter, Nick Jones

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Drivers have mixed reactions on the topic of toll roads in Jacksonville, and with the First Coast Expressway set to arrive by year's end, many aren't thrilled to see them return.

City Councilman and former mayor Tommy Hazouri was in office in 1989 when all the toll booths in the River City were demolished. At the time, the city voted to replace tolls with a half-cent sales tax to fund road maintenance and infrastructure.

"We had a pollution problem; we had a health problem as a result, then traffic congestion and aggravation," Hazouri said. "People were not happy."

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To this day, the half-cent sales tax remains in effect. Because of that, some people are wondering why toll roads are being allowed to return.

"Make no mistake about it, it is not the city doing it. It is the state," Hazouri said.

In 2012, a law passed allowing the Florida Department of Transportation to establish tolls on roadways as long as existing lanes were not tolled. Drivers don't have to take the roads, but there is no "free ride" because of the transportation tax.

A city spokesperson said the sales tax generates about $86 million per year. Some of that money is used to pay off bonds. But much of it funds the Jacksonville Transportation Authority, while the rest is used by the city, according to a statement provided by a JTA spokesperson.

"The amount of sales tax revenues has increased over the years. The net amount is projected to be about $57 million this year. JTA has utilized the revenue for various road projects, including several completed under the Better Jacksonville Plan, as well as transit operations," the statement said.

Hazouri said the express lanes are another way to make money, but he's concerned Jacksonville won't benefit from them, especially since the tolls will be run by the state.

The Department of Transportation said the express lanes are intended to ease congestion on some major roadways, which drivers are happy to hear. The agency said the toll money will be used to cover the cost and maintenance of the lanes.

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