Groups blast Legislature’s proposed new toll road plan as “worst ever” bill

By: - April 22, 2019 3:50 pm

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Fifty-six community and environmental groups sent a letter to state senators Monday opposing the Florida Legislature’s proposed bill to create a new statewide network of toll roads.

Sierra Club’s Florida Chapter Director Frank Jackalone called the toll road bill “the worst environmental bill that I have seen in 20 years.”

The toll road bill is a top priority for Republican Florida Senate President Bill Galvano of Bradenton. The multi-billion-dollar, years-long proposal is up for consideration before the full Senate on Tuesday.

“These corridors would essentially put a bullseye on some of the last best natural conservation and agriculture land in Florida,” said Paul Owens, President of the growth management group 1000 Friends of Florida.

Jackalone said the massive project “would fuel massive sprawl.”

In their letter, the groups also raised concerns about the substantial cost for a highway network of that scale:

“Building these roads will be very expensive. The funding would grow from $45 million next fiscal year to $90 million in the 2020-2021 fiscal year, about $135 million the next year, and a recurring amount of $140 million starting in the 2022-2023 fiscal year. And that’s just for planning. Billions will be bonded to actually build hundreds of miles of limited access highways. Florida will be paying off the debt for more than a generation instead of funding education, healthcare, or needed infrastructure for wastewater, drinking water, and the roads and bridges we already have.”

The groups pointed out that “the FDOT Interstate 75 Relief Task Force recommended in 2016 that rather than new roads, a better approach was expanding the vehicle capacity of the interstate and connecting highways.”

“Transit and planning relieve congestion, not building roads,” the letter said. “Relieving congestion in urban areas requires a focus on transit. The American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2016 Report Card notes that only 2% of Floridians’ commutes to work were made by public transit and that Florida needs to develop and connect its transit networks with an additional $1.3 billion investment.

“Road building is not a sustainable economic development strategy for rural communities.  In fact, these roads will route traffic away from communities established on existing roads, harming their economies.”

Galvano’s toll road plan has support from the state’s developers and road builders, and the bill is being shepherded by state Sen. Tom Lee, a Tampa-area home builder.  As the Phoenix earlier reported, one main toll road route, through North Central Florida, would benefit Florida’s richest man.

Both Galvano and Lee deny knowing the man, Thomas Peterffy. Peterffy is a Republican donor who has a mansion on Palm Beach’s Billionaire’s Row and is a member of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club. He owns tens of thousands of acres of already master-planned land in North-Central Florida.

The group Progress Florida dubbed the toll road “Billionaire Boulevard.”

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Julie Hauserman
Julie Hauserman

Julie Hauserman has been writing about Florida for more than 30 years. She is a former Capitol bureau reporter for the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times, and reported for The Stuart News and the Tallahassee Democrat. She was a national commentator for National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Sunday and The Splendid Table . She has won many awards, including two nominations for the Pulitzer Prize. Her work is featured in several Florida anthologies, including The Wild Heart of Florida , The Book of the Everglades , and Between Two Rivers . Her new book is Drawn to The Deep, a University Press of Florida biography of Florida cave diver and National Geographic explorer Wes Skiles.

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