Sunpass holders go through an express lane at the entrance of Sanibel Island in Lee County, Florida, United States on January 15, 2018. Photo: EQRoy/Shutterstock.com
Lawmakers in Tallahassee have decided to revisit an approved bill from last year (Senate Bill 7068). The bill has to do with a questionable plan to build more than 300 miles of toll roads through rural Florida. This bill is one of many bills being advanced at this year’s legislative session. Another proposed bill would use up to $5 million meant for toll roads to build high-speed Internet in rural areas. The other bills would favor giving money to the neighboring communities along the toll road routes when they apply for state grants.
Three new toll roads would be built by 2030: one road would link Polk and Collier counties, the second road would extend the Suncoast Parkway to the Georgia border, and the third would connect Florida’s Turnpike to the Suncoast Parkway.
According to the bill’s House Sponsor, Rep. Stan McClain, if the roads are built, small counties would need a grant to hire planners and engineers to plan out the area the toll roads interchanges or change their current plans to accommodate the roads that are already built. McClain argued that large counties can usually afford this kind of staffing as opposed to smaller counties where funds are not easily available or where other local affairs take priority over a new toll road.
Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, says the roads are needed to spark the economies of rural Florida cities. Hurricane evacuation routes are also a reason to build the roads. Traffic congestion on Interstate 75 can be alleviated by building separate roads to accommodate the thousands of cars on the road every day.
Environmental and economic factors also play a role in the building of these new toll roads. The roads would also go through some of the state’s most remote and environmentally sensitive areas. One federal biologist said the southern route would be “basically a disaster” for the endangered Florida panther. An environmental disaster at this level would obviously be devastating to the local economy and the residents of the city.
The proposed toll road would create three task forces for each of the three roads: extending the Suncoast Parkway north, extending Florida’s Turnpike to meet the Suncoast and a new road connecting Polk and Collier counties.
Transportation officials will have the final say over the project, and they are not required to follow the task forces’ recommendations. After this session, lawmakers will not get another vote.
Construction would begin in 2022 and be completed tentatively in 2030 as previously mentioned.
William is the Managing Editor at FloridaInsider.com. His years of experience in journalism, broadcasting and multimedia include roles as a Writer and Web Producer. He graduated from Florida International University with a Bachelor of Science and Communication.