Toll road plan taking fire from environmental groups

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By: Jake Stofan | Capitol News Service
May 20, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) -- Environmental groups have condemned Governor Ron DeSantis for signing a bill they believe would harm environmentally-sensitive areas in the state.

The new law will start planning for three new roads through mostly rural parts of the state. It would be largest road project in the state since the 1950s.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce said it will ease congestion and bring more business to rural counties.

“Infrastructure is the lifeblood of an economy,” said Christopher Emmanuel with the Chamber. "We've got 4.5 million new Floridians that we can expect by 2030, three million new drivers on our roadways, and this is an important infrastructure piece to help connect those people to jobs and rural communities and urban cores."

$45 million is earmarked for 2019-2020 to initiate planning for a new toll road from Collier County to Polk County, connecting the turnpike to the Sun Coast Parkway and extending the parkway to the Florida-Georgia line.

Aliki Moncrief with Florida Conservation Voters said the new roads could devastate ecosystems in the mostly rural lands.

“The state would be destroying wetlands and so you're destroying habitat for all the animals that depend on wetlands, but you're also destroying wetlands that help protect our drinking water supplies,” said Moncrief.

In addition to eventually building the roads, the plan would construct water, sewer and broadband infrastructure. It also requires environmental impact studies be conducted prior to breaking ground.

Jordan Lubkmann with Earth Justice is concerned the studies will be treated only as a formality.

“It will really remain to be seen who is allowed to participate in the task forces,” said Lubkmann.

The road expansions were the top priority of Senate President Bill Galvano, but he’ll be long out of office by the time construction is set to begin. But, the three legislators next in line for president all voted in support of the bill.

Galvano says he’s confident the project will be seen through to completion.

“If we're breaking ground by 2023, once that's on its way, it's on its way,” said Galvano.

Spending on the project is set to increase incrementally, reaching $140 million a year starting in 2022. It would remain at that funding level until its scheduled completion date in 2030.



 
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