logo

Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news for working families.  An online newspaper

Florida News

Opponents of FL Turnpike Bill Vow 'War on Toll Roads to Nowhere'

Photo of turnpike traffic at night. Copy reads: Governor signs toll road bill. FL Chamber thrilled, Sierra Club FL declares war

TALLAHASSEE –  Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a bitterly-contested bill creating task forces to study a decade-long, multi-billion dollar plan to extend three toll roads into rural “corridors” along the state’s west side.

Senate Bill 7068 earmarks $45 million to study the proposed Multi-Use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance [M-CORES] program, the state’s most significant highway-building project since the 1950s.

DeSantis, who expressed concerns about the proposal during the legislative session, said with the state expecting to add 5 million more residents the next decade, $45 million to study where roads are needed is a prudent investment.

“We’re probably going to need more than that, just given how our state is growing and just given that traffic can be a big problem,” DeSantis said before signing SB 7068 and a bill banning texting-and-driving at Sarasota High School. “I’m supportive of infrastructure.”

Sierra Club Florida: a "Declaration of War"

No sooner was the proverbial ink of DeSantis’ signature dry than Sierra Club Florida announced it and a coalition of 90 organizations, including 1000 Friends of Florida, Audubon Everglades, Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Florida Policy Institute, Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, Progress Florida, would legally challenge the bill as part of its “declaration of war” against M-CORES because, they say, it will destroy wetlands and the state would be better served by upgrading already-existing roads.

Sierra Club Florida Director Frank Jackalone said he was “extremely disappointed” DeSantis signed the bill.

“This ends all claims Gov. DeSantis can make that he is a true environmentalist and a Teddy Roosevelt conservationist,” Jackalone said in a statement. “The Sierra Club sees the signing of this bill into law as the very beginning of a war against these toll roads. We’re going to do everything in our power to stop the toll roads from being built.”

Jackalone envisions filing legal challenges against construction permits, as well as working with local residents to stop building the roads.

SB 7068 – Senate President Bill Galvano’s session priority – was approved by the Senate, 37-1, and the House, 76-36.

M-CORES would build the 150-mile Heartland Parkway from Lakeland to Naples, push the Florida Turnpike 40 miles west to link I-75 with the Suncoast Parkway, and extend the Suncoast 150 miles north to Georgia. Construction would begin in 2022, end in 2030.

Funding

M-CORES will be funded through license plate tag revenues – $1.1 billion over a decade – shifted from the state’s general fund into the State Transportation Trust Fund [STTF].

SB 7068 appropriates $45 million for fiscal year 2020, M-CORES’s first-year allocation to create study task forces. M-CORES outlines $90 million in Fiscal Year 2021 funding, $135 million in Fiscal Year 2022 and $140 million annually through FY30, totaling $1.1 billion by 2030, for financing a state turnpike bond to pay for the projects, which could cost $10 billion.

In a statement, Galvano called the plan “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.”

DeSantis said the long-proposed Heartland Parkway linking Polk and Collier counties would provide a more direct route between central and southwest Florida.

“Right now, you have to go all the way around [I-75], it’s not a good route,” he said before signing the bill and attending a charity golf tournament Galvano was hosting.

Taskforce: supposed to be open and transparent

A Senate news release detailing the signing said the regional task forces will include local residents, representatives of environmental organizations such as Sierra Club, and be required to consult with the state’s Department of Transportation and the public.

“Corridor need, economic and environmental impacts, hurricane evacuation needs, and land use impacts” will be evaluated, the Senate statement emphasized. “Project construction cannot be funded until a report is completed.”

"A Long Term Investment"

Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, who sponsored the bill and herded it through heated committee and floor objections, called M-CORES a “long-term investment.”

Supporters, such as the Florida Transportation Builders Association, Florida Trucking Association, Florida Ports Council, Asphalt Contractors Association of Florida, phosphate giant Mosaic, Central Florida agribusiness corporations, and – most notably – the Florida Chamber of Commerce, celebrated DeSantis signing the bill.

 “Moving goods, residents, and visitors is a paramount concern for Florida’s economy and that concern is felt by Republicans, Democrats, and independents alike,” Florida Chamber President/CEO Mark Wilson said.

Although SB 7068 was among the most controversial bills adopted during the session, Friday’s bill-signing ceremony focused more on House Bill 107, which makes texting and driving a primary offense in Florida on July 1.

Sierra Club Florida: rebuild existing roads

No sooner was the proverbial ink of DeSantis’ signature dry than Sierra Club Florida announced it and a coalition of 90 organizations would legally challenge the bill as part of its “declaration of war” against M-CORES because, they say, it will destroy wetlands and the state would be better served by upgrading already-existing roads.

This piece appeared in the The Center Square and was reprinted by the Columbia County Observer with permission or license.

Layout and graphic added by the Observer; composite image by the Observer. photo: MaxPixel/CC0)

Comments  (to add a comment go here) 

 
 
Meeting Calendar
No need to be confused - Find links to agendas and where your participation is welcome.
 
 

Make a comment • click here •
All comments are displayed at the end of the article and are moderated.