A  long-running dispute over trouble-prone open-road electronic tolling technology installed on Florida highways hit a key point on Jan. 29, when a state court ruling favored the system contractor over the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority (MDX), awarding the firm $53.3 million in its breach-of-contract and wrongful termination suit.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge William Thomas ruled for Texas-based Electronic Transactions Consultants Corp., agreeing that MDX provided inaccurate customer-use projections on five county expressways where ETC was to design, install and operate the cashless toll system and then wrongfully terminated its nearly $80-million contract when the firm sought a fee increase. The contractor had to process 76 million more apparent toll-violation transactions than was stated in its contract, said Thomas, writing that the volume “changed the entire nature of ETC operations.”

In counterclaims, MDX contended that ETC misrepresented its abilities and intentionally underbid the contract, according to a Miami TV news report. It projects that the dispute could cost MDX as much as $78 million in lost revenue and damages. 

“The subject of the litigation was a performance-based contract for the purposes of converting MDX roadways to electronic collection, or Open Road Tolling, and the vendors repeatedly failed to provide or demonstrate a contract-compliant system, which affected our customers with billing errors,” says an MDX spokeswoman by email. The “decision to terminate the contract with this vendor and procure an alternate vendor proved to be the proper decision in terms of performance and improved service and protection to our MDX customers.”

But Thomas ruled against MDX on its $19-million counterclaim, saying, “There is very little presented by the defense witnesses as to the issue of delay, hindrance or prevention of performance that this court can trust and believe.” He also was critical of the authority’s order that the system “go live” without allowing ETC to complete what was considered industry-standard testing. Thomas called MDX’s actions “dishonest, capricious or in bad faith.”

The MDX spokeswoman says the authority will appeal. “We strongly disagree with the court ruling,” she says, declining to offer further detail on its position. But an ETC attorney says, “The company spent $55 million to collect over $400 million for MDX while only being paid $5 million. This ruling corrects that injustice.”