The Florida legislature has approved a multi-billion dollar initiative to build three toll roads in mostly rural areas of the state.
The proposed roads would include:
- 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; annd
- 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 legislation, passed on a 76-36 vote, calls for task forces of state and local officials to plan the corridors over the next year and indicates construction would start in 2022, with the roads open by 2030.
The plan calls for expenses of $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, Florida Phoenix reports. “The money would be spent on planning the massive project; billions more would be bonded to fund the toll roads.”
Supporters say the roads will spur rural job growth, relieve congestion on Interstate 75 and Interstate 4 — the main tourist road to Walt Disney World and other Orlando theme parks — and create new hurricane evacuation routes, the Sun-Sentinel reports.
Republican Rep. Jay Trumbull of Panama City, the chief House sponsor, invoked the interstate highway system’s creation by President Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s and the building of Florida’s Turnpike as examples of essential and economically successful projects, the newspaper reported.
“Could you imagine today if you were driving through Florida without the turnpike system?” Trumbull said. “We have the ability today to push our state forward.”
However, opponents said a financial commitment to the roads should await studies on whether they will harm wetlands and wildlife and spur urban sprawl. They also said the bill amounts to a handout to the highway construction industry.
“The bill before us today is the most massive expansion of our highway system since the 1950s. Let’s not green-light a project without having the proper facts,” said Rep. Bobby DuBose, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat. “We are basically handing over a blank check.”
“These new infrastructure corridors will help Florida strategically plan for future population growth, revitalize rural communities, and enhance public safety, while at the same time protecting Florida’s unique natural resources and habitats,” Senate president Bill Galvano said in a statement.