Environmentalists try to de-escalate Florida's toll road plan

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Earth Day was used by environmentalists to criticize a proposal before the Seanad to extend and build toll roads through hundreds of thousands of the state.

Florida Director Sierra Club, Frank Jackalone, said during a Monday news conference in St. Petersburg that his group will “declare war” on lawmakers who sponsor the bill (

SB 7068

), which is a priority of the Senate President Bill Galvano.

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“We will be collecting the biggest campaign ever undertaken by Sierra Club in Florida, in our history, to stop these toll roads,” said Jackalone, who predicted that the projects would have sprawl, adverse wildlife impacts and water pollution. . resolve large areas of rural lands. “The whole state will change.”

1000 Friends of Florida joined the Sierra Club at the news conference, which was held a day before the Seanad, which requires that $ 45 million be spent next year.

The proposal would also require the Department of Florida Transport to establish task forces to study the economic and environmental impacts associated with the expansion of the Suncoast Parkway from the Tampa Bay area north to the border of Georgia, stretching west with the Suncoast Porch. and building a new transport corridor, including a toll road, from Polk County to Collier County.

Galvano, R-Bradenton, has said that the roads would help rural communities, address the rapid growth of the state, provide new evacuation options for hurricanes, widen bicycles and pedestrian footpaths and lay down the footpath. a basis for new water and sewerage and broadband lines.

When asked about the environmental news conference and criticism, Katie Betta, spokesman for Galvano, said in an e-mail that the proposal does not detail the specific paths for the roads and that the construction of any of the corridors would not be financed to a report. .

“Each task force will consult with the FDOT on corridor analysis, including servicing a variety of infrastructure corridors, such as broadband connectivity and sewer,” wrote Betta. “This includes an evaluation of corridor need, economic and environmental impacts, hurricane evacuation needs, and land use impacts. The bill requires public hearings in all local government jurisdictions, to ensure that local communities have the opportunity to weigh up. "

Betta stated that the duties of the task forces will include an assessment of wildlife crossing designs and consideration of the need to acquire land to reduce impacts on wildlife, water quality and agricultural land uses.

The Senate was expected to take the bill last week, and the Democrats intend to push more details on the environmental and land use impacts. Bill Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa sponsored the measure as he continued to massage it.

Lee's reforms now include: Local authorities would have a year since construction offers go out to find out if they have land uses and natural resource protections. In addition, “as far as possible”, the conservation land corridors acquired under the 2000 Conservation programs and Florida Forever, primary spring protection zones and farmland conservation areas would be avoided.

Paul Owens, president of the 1000 Friends of Florida, noted that there are large stretches of land in the targeted corridor zones that have not yet been received.

And while giving credit to Lee for steps that consider “negative impacts” of the highways, Owens said that he skips the issue of the need for the roads.

“Such highways should not be considered even before critical agricultural land and natural resources are conserved and protected,” said Owens. “It is regrettable that, at the same time, the Legislator intends to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in programs and projects to restore state impaired waterways, it is about to approve three new highways. sensitive rivers, natural springs, wetlands and aquifer recharging areas. ”

Owens suggested that it would be cheaper to protect the region from future growth by purchasing development rights from farmers so that they could continue farming, upgrading existing roads and getting more environmental lands.

The environmental groups are not the only person opposing the proposal. The Florida Liberal Advancement Progress Group began a Saturday petition drive against the proposal which describes it as “one of the largest land graves for many years, threatening major natural swaps of Florida in the process.” T

“Florida only needs rural toll roads that have more support for the asphalt industry and the many problems they face: more traffic, more pollution and more threats to our springs, lakes and rivers,” said email from Progress Florida. “These toll roads are not just roads – additional sewerage and utility infrastructure is also introduced. This is the recipe for controlling urban sprawl which will put additional pressure on our state's water resources, contribute to climate change and affect wildlife and desert. ”

Under the proposal, funding grew from $ 45 million in the next fiscal year to $ 90 million in fiscal year 2020-2021, about $ 135 million next year and a recurring amount of $ 140 million starting in fiscal year 2022. -2023.

The task forces would have to complete their work by October 1, 2020. The proposal requires construction to commence by the end of 2022 and the roads will be open to traffic before 31 December, 2030.

The project is supported by groups such as Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida Port Council, Florida Trucking Association and Florida Asphalt Contractors Association.

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