A republican-backed effort to repeal the construction of three controversial toll roads is moving forward in the legislature. It would open the door for two other projects to commence.
The toll roads are currently planned to connect Citrus to Jefferson County, Collier to Polk County, and extend the Florida Turnpike northwest of the Suncoast Parkway. Each toll road had a task force to evaluate its need and impact.
"The task force recognized that we may need investments. I think we all agreed we did need investments in the existing infrastructure," Leon County Commissioner Kristin Dozier says. She served on one of the task forces.
"It is interesting that all three-task force[s] really came back and said we're not sure there's a need for a brand-new road in all of these areas," Dozier says.
The roads also angered environmentalists like Sierra Club Florida. The group's Michael McGrath says the roads, as originally proposed, would cut through essential lands.
"They go through some of the most ecologically and also environmentally sensitive lands here in Florida, put at risk our rural communities the possibility of bypassing them and also devastating our farm-lands throughout Florida," McGrath says.
Now, a measure to repeal the toll roads from state law is advancing through the legislature. It's sponsored by Sen. Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart), who says the repeal builds on the task force recommendations while also helping the state address a more than $2 billion budget deficit.
"The state has faced major, major problems, and the pandemic has really caused us to reevaluate this previous policy and also the budget decisions that came out of that," Harrell says.
Harrell's proposal includes a potential re-route of one of the roads by connecting I-10 in Madison County to U.S. 19 and the Suncoast Parkway. It would also extend the Florida turnpike as determined by the Florida Department of Transportation. Leon County's Dozier says while toll roads could still be built under the bill, she's glad to see it also focuses on improving existing infrastructure.
"And if we think about sea-level rise or increased number of storms, addressing some of those issues now could be really beneficial, looking at evacuation. Hurricane evacuation is a big deal and making sure that we have easy access to bring people from the south up to the northern part of the state as they are hit by a storm," Dozier says.
Other improvements Dozier says could be allowing trucks to bypass certain communities while still encouraging drivers to go through those areas. Harrell's proposal has one last committee stop before heading to a vote on the Senate floor.