I felt encouraged by Governor DeSantis’ early statements about restoring degraded springs and improving water quality in regions ravaged by algae blooms. He also recognized the natural environment as a major pillar of Florida’s economy. Now we are at an inflection point where we will see if his words are matched by his actions. A transportation bill legislators just sent for his signature would contradict those words by paving the way for construction of three toll roads through some of Florida’s most significant remaining natural areas and agricultural lands.
The toll roads would cost billions to build, but would not fill any identified transportation need. They are actually intended to promote sprawl in the name of economic development. Sprawl that would threaten up to 13 of our 30 Outstanding Florida Springs with even more nutrient pollution and reduced spring flows from the groundwater pumping that would invariably result.
Even if we ignored the environmental damage that would result from building three superhighways through thousands of acres of panther habitat in South Florida, and high groundwater recharge areas along the Suwannee River, you can be certain some of the transportation projects important to your local community will be moved to the backburner to free up funding for the toll-roads-to-nowhere.
One justification the legislature has floated for the roads is that they would bring other kinds of infrastructure, like high speed internet, to rural areas. Such infrastructure could be provided without spending billions on unneeded toll roads. They also claim the highways would assist with hurricane evacuation. Florida’s Division of Emergency Management favors evacuation strategies that allow evacuees to shelter as close to home as possible. Addressing deficiencies in hurricane shelters and devising other strategies that would make it possible for evacuees to remain closer to home would be a more efficient and far less expensive solution. Indeed, these toll roads may be the quintessential solution in search of a problem.
Why is the legislature so intent on the development of these toll roads? It begs the question whether there are other unstated priorities driving this legislation. Governor DeSantis should veto this bill and allow the professionals at FDOT to handle transportation planning.
*Note: This bill (SB 7068) was sitting on Governor DeSantis’ desk for approval at the time of printing.
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