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Transportation

Toll Roads To Avoid Sensitive Areas; Environmentalists Not Swayed

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.

The toll roads would swerve around areas such as lakes and springs. A statement from the head of the Florida Department of Transportation says they promise to protect the environment, while also planning for what he calls the state’s "inevitable future growth."

“I am confident that the avoidance graphic articulates our promise to protect and preserve Florida’s environment, while also planning for the state’s inevitable future growth,” said Transportation Secretary Kevin J. Thibault. “The department will continue to support task force members and provide any requested resources throughout this critical process as they work toward consensus on paths/courses for the proposed corridor.”

But Chris Costello of the Florida Sierra Club - which has spearheaded the campaign against what it calls "Roads to Ruin" - say they would harm undeveloped areas and lead to sprawl.

"There is no way to create any one of the three corridors and not have a disastrous impact on Florida taxpayers, water quality, environmental protection, wildlife habitat - including the quality of life for rural Florida," she said.

Avoidance areas
Credit Florida Department of Transportation
Areas that will be avoided for the road

State lawmakers passed a law last year to expand the Suncoast Parkway north to the Georgia border; extend the Florida Turnpike west and build a new toll road connecting Polk and Collier counties.

The toll roads are the idea of State Senate President Bill Galvano. The Bradenton Republican came up with the notion after talking with business leaders about ways to spur growth in the state's hinterlands.

The bill the Legislature passed gives extraordinarily tight timelines. Three task forces, one for each road, have until October to issue recommendations to the governor and Legislature. Construction would start in 2022 and the roads would be "substantially completed" by 2030.

The task forces that have been formed are called the Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (M-CORES) program.

Map of three proposed toll roads
Credit Florida Department of Transportation
The Suncoast Parkway expansion area is in gold; the Florida Turnpike expansion in green; and the area being eyed for the Southwest Connector is in brown