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Environmentalists Oppose Tying Broadband Expansion To Toll Roads

Aerial drone view on motorway with toll collection point at night
Daniel Jędzura
Adobe Stock
Aerial drone view on motorway with toll collection point at night

A project tying toll roads to a broadband expansion has made some mad because they say there’s no need for additional roadways. Opponents believe the expansion can happen without road construction. But the Florida Department of Transportation Chief Engineer Will Watts believes it’s best to combine the two.

“First transportation right away can be a location for broadband, conduit, fiber, or other wireless systems reducing the costs for taxpayers. This can be particularly useful for helping building out the middle of the mile systems,” Watts said. “Secondly we can coordinate highway construction with broadband installation.”

Watts spoke about the issue during a Wednesday meeting on the toll road expansion plans. The plan to build the roads was signed into law in 2019. The roads were sold as a way to create more evacuation routes and help transport Florida’s growing population.

Environmentalist group, The Sierra Club of Florida, claims the construction and new roads will cause harm to rural environments. They believe building three new toll roads is unnecessary, especially if the reason is to expand broadband access. Michael McGrath with Sierra Club says it’d be a lot cheaper to just focus on broadband.

“The lower estimate for how much that would cost would be around 110 million dollars or so, and the upper estimate will be around 209 million dollars for deploying broadband access to all those county areas,” McGrath said. “And that’s using the existing infrastructure that you already have within the state of Florida for our roads and whatnot.”

The new toll road project is expected to cost more than 10 billion dollars. McGrath says not only does it save money to focus solely on broadband expansion, but it also saves the ecosystems of small communities that the new roads would travel through.

Blaise Gainey is a State Government Reporter for WFSU News. Blaise hails from Windermere, Florida. He graduated from The School of Journalism at the Florida A&M University. He formerly worked for The Florida Channel, WTXL-TV, and before graduating interned with WFSU News. He is excited to return to the newsroom. In his spare time he enjoys watching sports, Netflix, outdoor activities and anything involving his daughter.