As discussed previously, based on what we saw happen in Australia during the 90’s government departments and cities would begin to consolidate to reduce costs. Aivars Lode
By Dan Tracy, Orlando Sentinel
4:58 p.m. EST, January 7, 2013
No one is sure how many jobs might be eliminated or how much money could be saved, but the state's four main toll-road agencies, including Orlando's, are moving to consolidate their backroom operations.
If successful, the merger could help delay future toll increases, one official said.
The belief is that expenses could be reduced through centralization and that service to toll-paying motorists would be improved because there would be a single way of doing business rather than four sets of rules.
As many as 30 staffers are meeting regularly to work out the details between the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority, the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority, the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority and Florida's Turnpike, administrators said.
And the directors of each authority have been getting together twice a month, either by telephone or in person.
"It has been going on a long time in concept," said Orlando spokeswoman Michelle Maikisch, adding, "There's not been any hard decisions made yet."
The four agencies are working off a memo each signed in September. It outlines numerous areas where they can work together, including creating a centralized customer-service center and regional walk-in offices for motorists, plus using the same procedures for seeking unpaid tolls.
The Orlando authority has agreed in principle to give up its E-Pass transponder brand and go with the SunPass name used by the state, Tampa and Miami. Orlando owners will not have to get rid of their E-Pass transponders; the name will just go away.
"This is significant to our customers," said turnpike spokeswoman Christa Deason.
Walter Ketcham, chairman of the Orlando authority, said he hopes enough money can be saved by merging operations to forgo future toll raises. The next one is set for 2017.
"I think we are looking every way we can to get around toll increases," he said.
The authority increased rates in July 2012, the second time in three years, after going the 19 years prior without one.
Tampa spokeswoman Sue Chrzan estimates the talks could take up to three years to complete. "We're just really at the beginning point," she said.
The discussion comes in the wake of proposals during the past two years to merge the state's toll agencies.
Consolidation of some office functions originally was broached in 2009, when U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, R- Winter Garden, headed a review panel of the expressway authority. He was looking for ways to cut costs and enhance the agency's reputation after it was rocked by a political fundraising scandal.
Gov. Rick Scott also put together a panel in 2011 that considered a more dramatic concept, possibly rolling all of the entire agencies into one. The move did not gather much backing.
And state Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, tried to promote a merger of at least the Orlando and Tampa authorities into the turnpike during the 2011 legislative session, but he could not get enough votes in the House. Gaetz could not be reached for comment.
Orlando authority officials have fought to remain independent because they do not want to lose control of a 105-mile system that generates nearly $270 million in annual tolls.
Scott and Ananth Prasad, secretary of the state Department of Transportation, are trying to build more roads with the greater use of tolls. The agency that runs the 460-mile turnpike system already has plans to build a $291 million toll road in Jacksonville.
FDOT officials are turning to tolls because gas-tax revenues are expected to drop by $5 billion by 2020 as motorists switch to more fuel-efficient cars.
The Orlando authority and the turnpike also have joined to build the 25-mile, $1.6 billion Wekiva Parkway, which would cut through north Orange, south Lake and west Seminole counties.