OKALOOSA ISLAND — Florida must begin looking for alternatives to gas tax revenue to pay for future road work, state Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad said Wednesday.
That was one of Prasad’s main messages during his keynote speech at the first Emerald Coast Transportation Symposium at the Emerald Coast Convention Center.
The one-day event drew almost 200 people from Escambia to Gulf counties.
“The gas tax as a funding source is not sustainable,” Prasad said.
With the advances in fuel-efficient vehicles, that revenue is dwindling fast, he said. Prasad predicted the state is about 10 years away from a “gas tax cliff.”
Although Floridians are driving the same amount, they are using less gas. That means less money goes into the state’s Transportation Trust Fund.
Prasad said one solution is for the state to offer incentives to counties that join forces to fund transportation projects.
“It’s important that we think about transportation as a regional idea,” he said. “Congestion doesn’t end at the county line.”
Another solution is to move toward more user-financed infrastructure such as toll roads — and give local governments the flexibility to build them, Prasad said.
“Tolls are user fees,” he said. “You use the road, you pay for it. You don’t use the road, you don’t pay for it.”
Prasad said he intends to propose to state lawmakers in the coming days a plan to form three new tollway authorities, two of them in Northwest Florida.
The Okaloosa-Bay Regional Tollway Authority would encompass Okaloosa, Walton and Bay counties. The Northwest Florida Regional Tollway Authority would encompass Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. The third, the Suncoast Regional Tollway Authority, would include Citrus, Levy, Marion and Alachua counties.
Prasad said his proposal needs the support of Northwest Florida and its lawmakers. He also urged officials to be willing “to use new tool boxes” and get creative with the way they finance transportation improvements.
In a question-and-answer session after his talk, he said the DOT has no plans to consolidate the state’s bridge authorities under Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise. But he noted that his toll road proposal calls for the Mid-Bay Bridge Authority to be placed under the umbrella of the proposed Okaloosa-Bay Regional Tollway Authority.
That move “would allow the Mid-Bay Bridge Authority to expand its footprint,” Prasad said.
Contact Daily News Staff Writer Kari Barlow at 850-315-4438 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @KariBnwfdn.