Orlando: Grand Jury report released in wake of toll hikes

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Grand Jury Report Released As Toll Hike Planned
Expressway Authority Approves Toll Hike
February 26, 2009

ORLANDO, Fla. — A grand jury report released on Friday accuses the former head of the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority of improperly using his power and influence.

Allan Keen is accused of using expressway contractors to raise money for his favorite political candidates, such as former Congressmen Ric Keller and Tom Feeney and present Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty.The report comes out a day after the authority voted to raise tolls 25 cents beginning in April.

The grand jury report criticizes Keen, the former chairman of the expressway authority, of fostering a “culture of corruption” and acting like a “shakedown artist” to get vendors and contractors of the toll agency to help keep his political friends in office.Keen resigned in 2007.

But Keen’s attorney said Friday that it was legal, which is why Keen is not being criminally charged.The report, which has been sealed since October 2007, reveals Keen had expressway authority contractors and vendors raise money for 18 candidates and the “Mobility 2020″ effort to raise the sales tax to pay for roads. The total raised through Keen was more than $468,000.

The expressway authority held a public hearing on the proposal and voted on Thursday to change the fares.The authority’s vote was unanimous. The hike will occur April 5.The last time fares were increased was in 1990.

Officials said fewer drivers on local toll roads forced them to push for the hike.”We have needs on the system that need to get done to be completed on the 408, on the John Land (Apopka Expressway), down on the BeachLine,” Expressway Authority representative Mike Snyder said.

The Expressway Authority argues that if the increase didn’t pass, roadway projects would have been delayed. Also, toll revenue has been down nearly 5 percent each month for the past year.The increase promises guaranteed completion of the Greater Orlando Beltway by 2018, officials said.

Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty serves as board chairman. “Do I like the idea of raising tolls? No. Is it better for the authority to do it and raise jobs rather than have a bond agency come in here and do it for us? Yes,” Crotty said.

Tolls will be adjusted to inflation every five years starting in 2012.Many drivers said the struggling economy has them driving on toll roads less, and since the increase passed, some drivers said they will drive them even less.

“I do go out of my way, actually, to not use the roadways and tolls and stuff,” driver Byron Fain said.

The following toll plazas will not see a rate hike:

  • S.R. 408 and Good Homes Road
  • S.R. 408 and Orange Blossom Trail
  • S.R. 408 and Mills Avenue
  • S.R. 408 and Bumby Avenue
  • S.R. 417 and Orange Blossom Trail
  • S.R. 417 and Boggy Creek Road
  • S.R. 417 and Lake Nona Boulevard
  • S.R. 417 and Valencia College Lane
  • S.R. 429 and S.R. 438
  • Mainline at S.R. 414