Florida lost more than $45 million after tolls suspended during Hurricane Irma

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More than $45 million in revenue is believed to have been lost when the state suspended highway toll collections to help speed evacuations and relief efforts for Hurricane Irma, Florida's Turnpike system estimates.

However, the estimated $3 million-a-day impact is not expected to hinder operations of the system or ongoing work programs, “as impacts such as toll suspensions due to a hurricane are taken into consideration during the annual budgeting process,” turnpike spokesman Chad Huff said in an email Friday.

Funding 404 full-time positions, the turnpike system is budgeted at $1.57 billion for the current fiscal year, which began July 1.

Tolls were lifted by Gov. Rick Scott on Sept. 5 in advance of Hurricane Irma's trek across Florida. Toll collections resumed at 12:01 a.m. Thursday across the state, though they remained suspended on the Homestead Extension of Florida's Turnpike south of State Road 874 in southern Miami-Dade County, as Monroe County recovery efforts continue.

Irma made initial landfall Sept. 10 in Monroe County and a second landfall in Collier County before traveling north and exiting the state Sept. 11.

As Irma approached Florida, an estimated 6.3 million people were directed through mandatory or voluntary evacuations to find shelter inland or further away.

The state has not estimated how many people took to the road in advance of the storm.

The Florida Department of Transportation also suspended construction, clearing work zones to reduce traffic impacts for evacuees.

The turnpike system backed the governor's toll suspension.

“Governor Scott's top priority was to keep people safe as our state faced the threat of Hurricane Irma and to ensure Floridians had no reason to not evacuate if they were in evacuation zones,” Huff wrote. “Suspending tolls was critical to helping Floridians travel safely and quickly during the largest ever evacuation in U.S. history.”

Also Friday:

—- Scott continued to focus on debris removal, which he earlier blamed for slowing efforts to restore power lost from storm and causing public health issues.

Scott on Thursday invited debris removal companies to contact the Florida Department of Transportation —- if willing to work “at a fair price” —- as he's received complaints from local governments about debris-removal contractors not abiding by pre-storm contracts.

—- Scott expanded license-free freshwater and saltwater fishing through June 30, 2018 for utility workers. The same offer was provided for Florida law-enforcement officers and first responders on Thursday. The offer includes free day passes to Florida state parks through October 2018.

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