Communities crying foul of proposed toll roads

Published: Dec. 5, 2019 at 3:51 PM EST
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By: Mike Vasilinda | Capitol News Service

December 5, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) -- Plans to build 350 miles of toll roads has big Florida businesses cheering and environmentalists crying foul.

One small town devastated decades ago from the construction of Interstate 10 is now worried a new toll road will undo 40 years of progress.

Signs of discontent are everywhere in Monticello. Extending the Suncoast Parkway through the county to the Georgia line is almost universally opposed here.

“We’re really concerned the downtown economics here would really suffer” says store owner Michelle Arceneaux.

Residents point to shops closing here in the late 70’s when I-10 diverted traffic off US-90 through the middle of town.

Merchants on U.S. 19 say about 40% of their business comes from out of state residents traveling south to north, and they say that will all go away if a toll road is built.

At the state capitol, more than a dozen environmental organizations chanted “No roads to ruin” and cried foul on how the plan made it through the legislature.

“It was rammed through the 2019 legislative session on the last day,” argues Trish Nealy of the League of Women Voters.

Senate President Bill Galvano is the driving force behind the expansions. He argues the plan isn’t just roads.

“We are addressing the water projects and sewer projects in these smaller counties, and we are improving access to broadband so small county schools can have internet, first responders can, businesses can,” says Galvano.

Florida expects four and a half million more people and three million more cars by 2030. We asked coalition leader Ryan Smart what he would do instead.

“We need to be looking at high speed rail and how we are going to move people in twenty-one hundred and twenty-two hundred,” said Smart.

But the plan has Galvano’s backing as well as that of the man who will lead the Senate into 2022, which is after the roads scheduled groundbreaking.

The push for the roads is also being sold as an improvement in public safety and improve the ability of residents to evacuate as a major storm approaches.