The Phoenix Flyer

Want a voice in planning for massive FL toll road network? Here’s how

By: - August 1, 2019 4:15 pm

Florida toll road. Credit: Wikimedia photo

Florida legislators passed the largest statewide highway expansion plan since the 1950s last spring – a network of new toll roads stretching from South Florida to the Georgia border.

Now the state Department of Transportation is asking for the public’s input on the controversial plan, which was called “the worst environmental bill in twenty years” by one long-time Florida conservation leader and considered a top priority of Republican state Senate President Bill Galvano.

Two former governors and 90 conservation organizations, civic groups, and businesses urged Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto the bill, but he signed it. The new law dedicates billions to toll roads that were never called for in any state transportation plan. Legislators voted on it without having any exact routes to look at – just these general corridors:

– A “Suncoast Connector” highway to extend the Suncoast Parkway from north of Tampa up to North Florida’s Jefferson County, along the Georgia border.

– A highway to link Polk County to Collier County, the “Southwest Central Florida Corridor.”

– A “Northern Turnpike connector” to extend the Florida Turnpike northwest from I-75 in Wildwood to the Suncoast Parkway on the state’s west coast.

The state Department of Transportation has appointed members to a series of statewide task forces which will work on planning each of the routes. The task forces include Florida environmental agencies, business representatives and local officials, and will take public testimony.

The state is promoting the massive toll road-building as a way to revitalize rural areas, but critics say highways that move traffic quickly through the landscape do little for that goal, and point to the Panhandle’s Interstate 10 as one example.

At least one likely corridor through North Central Florida, the Phoenix previously reported,  would benefit Florida’s richest man,  Thomas Peterffy. Peterffy is a Republican donor who gave hundreds of thousands to Gov. Ron DeSantis and worked to raise money for the DeSantis campaign. He has a mansion on Palm Beach’s Billionaire’s Row and is a member of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club.

Peterffy owns tens of thousands of acres of already master-planned land in Taylor and surrounding counties. Critics dubbed the toll road project “Billionaire Boulevard.”

The Tampa Bay Times reported that the likely toll road corridor in southwest Florida mirrors a road project abandoned by two governors and pushed by powerful landowners like the Lykes Bros. and phosphate giant Mosaic.

The state transportation department is calling the toll road projects “Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance,” or M-CORES. Interested citizens can go to this website to sign up for updates on the planning process.

The legislation envisions construction starting in 2022 and the roads open by 2030. The plan calls for $45 million next year, $90 million in the 2020-2021 fiscal year, about $135 million the year after that and a recurring amount of $140 million starting in the 2022-2023 fiscal year. The money would be spent on planning the massive project; billions more would be bonded to fund the toll roads.

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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.