LISTEN LIVE

florida toll roads

Gov. Ron DeSantis signs bill
WFSU

More than 100 new laws will hit the books Wednesday from the 2020 legislative session, with issues ranging from expanding school vouchers to increasing fines for bear poaching.

Open government advocates want the brakes applied to upcoming webinars about controversial toll-road projects, contending that more-inclusive in-person meetings should be held as the state reopens amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Florida is still moving forward with plans to build three new toll roads. The projects have been met with local opposition since the legislature approved them in 2019. Now, a new front against the roads has opened. Given the new coronavirus pandemic and economic uncertainty, can the state still afford them?

Florida is planning a major expansion of its highways with a series of toll roads that would open new parts of the state to development.

Exactly where the roads will go hasn't been announced yet, but opposition to the highways is growing in rural areas such as Jefferson County in North Florida. Mike Willis' family has lived there since before Florida became a state. He likes to refer to it as "the other Florida."

"Most people think of Florida as palm trees, white sandy beaches," he says. "We have rolling clay hills and beautiful pine forests."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Suncoast Parkway
Steve Newborn / WUSF Public Media

Three of the biggest toll road expansions ever planned for Florida could have a big impact on much of the state. Planners have released a graphic showing areas that they'll avoid. But  opponents aren't being swayed.

Gaining initial legislative support last year might have been the easy part for controversial and expensive toll-road projects envisioned to cut through more than 300 miles of mostly rural land from Collier County to the Georgia border.

Three of the biggest road projects ever proposed in Florida are on a fast track created by state lawmakers, not transportation planners. It's being presented as a done deal, but some people say following the money may be the best way to stop them in their tracks.

Suncoast Parkway vista
Steve Newborn / WUSF Public Media

Critics of toll-road projects in rural areas from Collier County to the Georgia state line have combined efforts to try to halt plans for the new pavement.

Toll Roads
WUSF Public Media

Three of the biggest road projects ever proposed in Florida are on a fast track, spurred on by state lawmakers. One of the roads, which would cut through some of the state's most natural areas, is called the Southwest Central Connector.

That much is known.

How much will it cost?

Nobody knows.

Toll roads
Steve Newborn / WUSF Public Media

A task force that is coming up with recommendations to reduce the impacts of a planned toll road that will run through the middle of the state met Wednesday at Polk State College in Lakeland. 

Officials have not decided exactly where the road will be built.

Map of Florida showing projected toll road projects
State of Florida

Potential environmental impacts from a series of controversial toll road projects could start to be known shortly after the start of the new year.

Will Watts, chief engineer for the Florida Department of Transportation, said Wednesday that preliminary routes for the three projects will be based on input from task forces over the next couple of months, with a focus on what to “avoid and minimize first.”

Bill Galvano
Steve Newborn / WUSF Public Media

The first meeting of a task force that will look at building three new toll roads through rural areas of Florida met Tuesday in Tampa, in what was described as a defining moment for the future of the state.

The plan would expand the Suncoast Parkway from the Tampa Bay area to the Georgia border; extend the Florida Turnpike west to connect with the Suncoast Parkway; and add a new multi-use corridor, including a toll road, from Polk County to Collier County.