Roads To Nowhere Or Highways To The Future? Fight Over Future Toll Roads Ramps Up
Are they an innovative approach to the state’s future transportation needs or an environmental and economic road to nowhere? Florida lawmakers approved the creation of three new toll roads during the last legislative session, but opposition from environmentalists, small business owners and local officials is growing.
Former Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad recently offered some advice to the audience gathered a Florida Chamber of Commerce summit: Don’t believe what you see or read in news accounts.
“I can assure you when President Galvano talked to David Hart and then subsequently we had conversations, he asked for bold ideas, but there was no mention of corridors. He said, 'I want [the] Chamber and the business community to come and tell me what are those ideas' and obviously the corridors were one of those ideas.”
Prasad now leads the Florida Transportation Builders Association, which supported Senate President Bill Galvano’s vision for three new toll roads in the state. David Hart is the Florida Chamber’s lobbyist. What Prasad is talking about—how the idea for the toll roads came about—that’s what opponents criticize. They say the process wasn’t transparent and note there was no state analysis done to justify the roadways—something usually performed when a road is proposed. But Galvano stands behind the way his plan came about.
“We have in this state 900 people moving here every day. The days of relying on a five-year plan is not realistic in a modern Florida--a Florida that’s the 14th largest economy on the planet," he said while taking questions from reporters in October.
Some four million more people are expected to be in the state by 2030 and Galvano says the Florida Department of Transportation’s five-year plan isn’t forward looking enough to address that growth. The defense isn’t enough for Monticello small business owner Michele Arceneaux. Monticello is in Jefferson County—the northern end of the planned Suncoast extension toll road.
"The only economic development that happened were …a few gas stations and fast-food restaurants…at the expense of local businesses. a North-South road doing the same thing, having the same effect and would hurt our downtown economy," she says.
Arceneaux is part of both a local road opposition group as well as a group of organizations and businesses calling itself the "No Roads To Ruin Coalition". She worries the toll road will bypass down downtown Monticello and hurt local businesses. That’s what happened when the state built Interstate 10 in the 1970s. Stores along North Florida’s Highways 90 and 27 closed when traffic was re-routed.
Galvano argues the roads are meant to spur rural economic growth and improve infrastructure.
While the legislature created the toll roads, it did not specify routes. That’s something being done through the task forces set up to examine potential impacts. Yet even members of those groups, including environmental organizations, say, they don’t have enough power. Chief among them: the power to say “no” to the roads.
Galvano says the roads will happen. The question before the task forces and local communities is, exactly where will they go?