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Tolling Points

Florida Plans New Toll Roads to Combat 'Inter-Urban Crawl'

By: 
Bill Cramer

Three communities in Florida are one step closer to getting the new toll roads they need, after Governor Ron DeSantis signed a multi-million-dollar bill that had been a priority for Senate President Bill Galvano in the legislative session that ended earlier this month.

The legislation, SB 7068, will advance plans to extend the Suncoast Parkway in the Tampa area to the Georgia state line, connect the northern end of the Florida Turnpike to the Suncoast Parkway, and build the Southwest-Central Florida Connector between Polk and Collier counties, Florida Politics reports. Each of the roads will be subject to review by local task forces.

The bill’s supporters included the Florida Trucking Association, which sees the three roads as a ticket to quicker, cheaper trips for freight carriers. “I don’t know all the arguments in favor or against urban or suburban sprawl,” said President and CEO Kenneth Armstrong. “But I can tell you for sure about urban and suburban and inter-urban crawl.”

In a prepared statement, Galvano celebrated the bill as “an innovative approach to infrastructure that will enable Florida to strategically plan for future population growth, while at the same time revitalizing rural communities, protecting our unique natural resources, and enhancing public safety.”

Getting Beyond Controversy

The local panels will include a “cross-section of stakeholders,” including environmental representatives, Florida Politics previously reported, and the state Department of Transportation will have to work alongside them to study the viability of each plan. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Tom Lee, wouldn’t rule out the possibility that a project could be abandoned.

“There is nothing in this legislation that is self-executing,” he said last month, adding that FDOT “could easily come back with a no-build on one or more of these corridors—that’s entirely possible.”

Galvano had a different view, noting that “the need is so overwhelming that I don’t think [dropping a project] is a possibility.” But Lee acknowledged that some of these road proposals have been put forward in the past, and have run into their share of controversy.

“When alignment studies are done and decisions are being made, significant wildlife habitats and environmentally sensitive areas are always under consideration in these projects,” he said. In that light, one role for the task forces could be to help mitigate any unintended consequences arising from the work.

The budget for the three projects begins at $45 million in the next fiscal year, increasing to $100 million by 2022.

A Long-Term Investment

Even with details still to be worked out, there was sufficient agreement on the path forward to get the bill passed and signed into law. Lee called the projects a “long-term investment”, stating that “with this legislation signed into law today, we are taking a huge step forward in our work to sustain the historic rural communities that have powered Florida’s economy for generations.” Proponents have also pitched the projects as a way to anticipate and deal with the continuing population growth the state is facing.

“A lot of Florida’s transportation-infrastructure funding has been directed mostly toward the urban areas in our state,” Lee commented last month. Now, “we are looking beyond those urban areas to some of the areas in our state that have not benefitted equally from some of the economic growth that we’ve experienced.”

 

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