Support sags for ‘roads to ruin’

If, as this article indicates, enthusiasm for the three proposed toll roads is nonexistent (or limited to a handful of lawmakers and lobbyists), why is this expensive boondoggle still being discussed?

Published in the News-Press on August 28, 2020

Business support for toll roads lags as opponents still fight them

Chad Gillis

The state is still moving forward with a series of toll roads that about 90 percent of Floridians don’t want, and those who do support the highways don’t seem to want to talk about them. 

The Florida Department of Transportation held meetings this week to discuss the three tolls roads being proposed, and there was almost no support voiced during the public comment portion of the meetings. 

Business support for the roads has been noticeably absent. 

The News-Press reached out to chambers of commerce in Winter Haven, Cape Coral, Bonita Springs, Naples, Immokalee and Clewiston over the past two weeks, hoping to find some person or group that supports the proposed toll road that would link the Naples area with Polk County. 

But no responses were received, despite multiple attempts. 

Lindsay Cross, with Florida Conservation Voters, said business leaders aren’t openly supporting the roads because the public doesn’t want them. 

“It’s because it doesn’t have that much support,” Cross said. “There are a lot of other issues that we’re grappling with as a state right now that take precedence over new toll roads that are really aspirational.” 

The Center for Biological Diversity filed a public records request on behalf of more than 90 environmental groups and businesses as part of a group called No Roads to Ruin

More than 1,000 comments that were sent to DOT. 

Of those, nearly 90 percent of the comments were against building the roads.

DOT doesn’t break down how many people have been for or against the roads, choosing to divide the comments into generalized subjects. 

Mandated by law, one roadway would cut from just south of Orlando to the Naples area, likely following along the Highway 29 corridor that goes through Immokalee. 

In past meetings, supporters of the roads say the highways will bring broadband to rural areas, take congestion off other major travel corridors and bring economic growth to local communities.

Groups like the Florida Trucker’s Association and Florida Chamber of Commerce say the roads will boost local economies and help with hurricane evacuation times.

The Suncoast Parkway extension will travel from the Tampa area north to Georgia. This route could be built along the existing portion of Highway 19 or run parallel to it while the Northern Turnpike Connector will connect the future Suncoast Parkway with the existing Florida Turnpike. 

But, just like at other meetings, little support for the roads were voiced. 

Collier Commissioner Penny Taylor said the Southwest connector road is not needed and that it would only damage wildlife habitat and water quality. 

“The vote is ‘no build,'” Taylor said. 

She said the lack of business support “adds fuel to the fire.” 

“I think this is really being pushed way too much and it’s not DOT,” Taylor said. “I haven’t seen anything that convinces me that this road will benefit anyone or anything except development. You lose important water recharge areas and I think we need to talk about preserving the farm land as much as possible.”

Cross, who participated in this week’s meetings, said the roads just aren’t needed. 

“The funding required to do a project like this could be close to $30 billion,” she said. “The tolls will not likely support these roads, and this is not consistent with DOT’s process. It’ the perfect example of top-down — done by politicians and not planners.”

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