Galvano's Highway Expansion Bill Shifts Into Gear

Mar 5, 2019

Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, left, confers with Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, during session, Thursday, March 9, 2017, in Tallahassee, Fla.
Credit Steve Cannon / AP Photo

Senate President Bill Galvano’s transportation bill passed its first committee today but not without debate from those who are opposed to the proposal. And they’re not the only ones who don’t see eye to eye with Galvano, Governor Ron DeSantis is also opposed to a plan that would more toll roads to be built in Florida.

Florida is one of the fastest growing states in America and has more than 100 million visitors each year. Senate President Bill Galvano believes the state needs to address how to help get citizens around. But rural communities don’t want the highway in their backyard.

The project would extend the Suncoast Parkway from Tampa Bay to the Georgia border, extend the Florida Turnpike to connect with the Suncoast Parkway. and build the Heartland Parkway -which would run from Collier county to Orlando.

Dave Cullen for the Sierra Club says he has a better idea.

“We think that using intelligent land planning particularly for new development and putting it in places where it will be less susceptible to weather, is much better than having the world’s longest parking lot with everybody trying to escape on a couple of lanes,” said Cullen.

Hurricane Evacuation is one of the benefits the proposed program claims to address.

Proponents say the projects will boost the economy in rural areas mainly by creating more jobs. Committee staff director Phillip Miller explained.

“It allows [The Department of Transportation] to setup a workforce development program that would address the shortages for skilled labor to do these types of projects. So it’s not just the typical construction projects that are involved with the highway part. But also with the other types of infrastructure that might be involved in this,” said Miller.

But Cullen worries that although it may increase the workforce for the time being, the money being diverted away from the state’s general fund to do the projects would hurt other areas.

“A lot of the bill is financial in nature, and there is a significant loss to [General Revenue]. GR as you know is the source for your education, it is very likely going to be a source for hurricane recovery. And we would suggest that it should be a source for environmental projects that have been kicked down the road not for years but for decades. Septic tanks, sewer, and water supply projects," said Cullen.

Committee Chair Senator Tom Lee says he expects changes along the way but forewarned members that tough choices about funding will have to be made.

"We’ve tried to think thru this it’s probably a lot more to do and there’s probably a lot more the house will have in store for us as well. And I will just commit to all of you to continue to work with each and every one of you to try and make this a senate work product and not a president galvano work product or a tom lee work product but a team work product for a team sport," said Lee.