Senate President’s stance on toll roads concerning

In a statement in December 2019 about the new toll roads he championed, Florida Senate President Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) says the state “cannot continue to plan infrastructure in reverse.”

Good.

Galvano also says the environmental concerns raised about the 330 miles of toll roads he pushed through the last Legislature are “completely overstated.”

Not
so good.

The fact that Galvano appears to think that infrastructure planning equals building lots of new roads?

Also not good.

LeeFuture acknowledges that a growing state has a growing need for infrastructure… Florida is undeniable proof of that. But to imagine the answer to our state’s continued and explosive growth is simply more roads shows a failure to learn from the many past mistakes previous lawmakers have made to address growth.

What’s worse is that this new infrastructure will be toll roads – which studies have shown will not be able to pay for themselves for decades, meaning a growing drain on the state transportation budget. These roads will also invade swaths of dwindling undeveloped lands, crucial for both habitat and greenspace.

A wiser investment would be in infrastructure that actually strives to get ahead of pressing population growth issues now (or in the very near future) – not costly and ill-conceived roadways that will only open up new land for development without doing anything to prepare for that growth except give the newcomers another way to drive there.

Better investments? How about…

  • Supporting more mass transit to help people break their reliance on cars and roads for everything they do.
  • Supporting better surface water management and pollution control, to help recharge our aquifers, clean up our rivers and stop the endless cycle of water quality degradation that threatens our health, our economy and our future.
  • Support better planning for statewide land use, enhancing the capacity of public utilities, addressing climate change and creating more resilient communities… so the quality of life in our state stays strong enough to continue to attract (and retain) residents, businesses and investment now and into the future.

Thinking that more roads is all Florida needs to get ready for the future is simply wrong… unless your goal is to continue the wrong-headed moves that are making our state more uninhabitable by the decade. Because if that’s your plan, then we may need all those new roads – as a way to evacuate in the face of stronger storms, retreat in the face of rising tides or depart for good when the quality of life gets so bad no one will want to live here.

Originally reported on Dec. 17, 2019 by John Kennedy of the Gatehouse Capital Bureau

Galvano says new toll roads will ‘get ahead of’ future needs

By John Kennedy
GateHouse Capital Bureau
Posted: Dec. 17. 2019, at 4:31 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE – Despite loud public opposition to Florida’s largest highway expansion in more than a half-century, Senate President Bill Galvano said Tuesday that he remains confident in the plan he pushed through the Legislature last spring.

With the 2020 session set to start next month — and routes for three new toll roads also to be unveiled by state transportation officials — Galvano shrugged off concerns.

“We cannot continue to plan infrastructure in reverse,” said Galvano, R-Bradenton, meeting with reporters at the Capitol. “We have to get ahead of it.” Galvano’s last legislative session championed calls by a powerful coalition of road-building organizations for the toll roads over opposition from environmentalists and planning groups. At public hearings since then, opponents have been decrying the 330 miles of new roads planned as a threat to the state’s shrinking green space.

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Commission official also was recently reported having sent an email to a supervisor warning that one of the proposed roads — a parkway from Polk County to Naples — could wipe out the state’s shrinking population of Florida panthers.

Galvano called such concerns “completely overstated.”

“We have to be cognizant to the environmental impacts,” Galvano said. “And, no, we are not going to destroy the environment for the sake of particular infrastructure.”

Other roads planned extend the Suncoast Parkway 150 miles to the Georgia border and add 30 miles to Florida’s Turnpike near Wildwood so it connects with the new tract of Suncoast. Supporters say Florida’s growth rate is demanding new roads.

The Florida Department of Transportation in January is expected to unveil tentative routes for the highways, which now are described only as broad corridors. Galvano said it is likely that new legislation will advance in the Senate aimed at supporting goals of improving water, sewer and broadband access in the paths of the roads.

Galvano said the legislation will address policy matters and be backed by state money.

In other matters, Galvano touched on some of the emerging differences between the state’s ruling Republicans heading into the session.

He said the Senate will likely revise Gov. Ron De-Santis’ $900 million teacher pay and bonus plan. Galvano acknowledged the governor’s push to bring minimum teacher salaries to $47,500 — second highest in the nation for base pay — could create problems in counties where veteran educators may be left behind.

“When you put it as a one-size-fits-all, then you can create some practical problems as well as some inequities,” Galvano said.

Galvano also said the Senate was considering an approach similar to that backed by the state’s largest teachers union, the Florida Education Association, which would give local school districts more authority over how the pay raises are distributed.

House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami, has raised questions about the pay package. And he has drawn a sharp contrast with the governor and the Senate over the future of Visit Florida, the state’s tourist marketing agency.

Oliva supports the state’s current plans to abolish Visit Florida on June 30 – calling it unnecessary spending. But DeSantis in his state budget proposal steers $50 million to the agency and wants to see it continue.

So does Galvano.

“There is a role that we see for Visit Florida,” Galvano said.

“I have seen how it has become more efficient and focused … we’ll work through it.”

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