Turnpike agency's numbers show its success, necessity

Published February 5, 2007

This is written in response to a recent letter about the Suncoast Parkway 2 Project, (Check figures on cost, traffic, Jan. 17), by Kathy Chetoka, Homosassa. Her letter cited outdated information and incorrect generalizations.

On Jan. 25, Florida's Turnpike will celebrate its 50th anniversary. Initially created as the Florida State Turnpike Authority, in 1969 the authority was disbanded and the turnpike became part of the newly created Florida Department of Transportation.

In 2002 the Legislature authorized the turnpike to pursue innovation and best practices found in the private sector, to improve cost effectiveness and timeliness in project delivery, to increase revenue and expand our capital program, and to improve the quality of service. In short, we were challenged to become more business-like while remaining part of Florida's Department of Transportation.

Two projects that Ms. Chetoka attributed to the Enterprise, Polk Parkway and Suncoast Parkway, were actually planned, constructed and opened before the Turnpike Enterprise. Although it takes years for traffic to build on new turnpike expansion projects, just five or six years after opening, both are already meeting or close to meeting their respective forecasts.

In fiscal year 2006, the Polk Parkway's sixth full year of operation, actual revenue already exceeded the bonded forecast. This facility has averaged 15 percent growth each year since its opening.

Since its opening, the Suncoast Parkway has experienced double-digit annual growth. Last year traffic grew by 18 percent. Since its first full year of operation, traffic has nearly doubled from 12.7-million transactions in 2002 to 24.9-million transactions in 2006, or 86 percent of the original forecast. More significantly, if you look at the total State Road 589 corridor, comprising the Suncoast Parkway and the Veterans Expressway, the total project in FY 2006 exceeded estimates by 4 percent (estimate of $48.6-million and actual of $50.6-million).

The Turnpike Enterprise publishes and places on its Internet site (www.floridasturnpike. com) various annual financial and traffic reports that disclose the actual traffic and revenue history of all the expansion projects and the mainline.

Florida's Turnpike System serves nearly 2-million customers per day. Looking forward to the next 50 years, Florida's population is growing rapidly. We will pass New York to become the third-largest state with 38-million residents by 2050. There will be a continued need for high volume transportation options, new technologies, and user-financed highways.

With private sector methods and public sector motives, the Enterprise is in a unique position to help FDOT achieve its mission.

During the recent hurricanes it served as a greatly needed evacuation route and tolls were suspended to aid in this effort. It would be difficult to imagine a Florida without the Turnpike Enterprise including the mainline and expansion projects such as the Polk Parkway and Suncoast Parkway.

Christopher L. Warren is the deputy executive director and chief operating officer of Florida's Turnpike Enterprise.