The southern section of a proposed 350-mile toll road through central Florida is up for debate again today and Thursday.
A 47-member task force will meet all day today at the Civic Center in LaBelle. On Thursday, the public is invited to the North Collier Park in Naples to provide comment and talk to state engineers about the project from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Charlotte and DeSoto counties each have representation on the southern section task force, which is the largest section. It would run from Collier to Polk County.
Three large task forces have been meeting since August in various parts of the state. They must submit their recommendations to the legislature by October. The road would end up somewhere at the Georgia border north of Tallahassee.
Environmental groups have launched attacks on the project. Local farmers and ranchers have expressed disapproval, but other locals hope for some economic energy in their small towns. Legislators have promoted the project as bringing economic prosperity to the poorer sections of the state’s interior.
Charlotte County’s representatives have noted the state’s need to promote development away from the fragile coastline.
Task force members have been frustrated upon learning that they will not select the route, and that the route remains unknown.
According to today’s agenda, the task force will review co-location of the road with utilities and with existing roads. There will be a panel discussion with representatives from wildlife advocacy, utility companies, agriculture and economic development.
The task force also will be asked to discuss the project theme which some have resisted. The theme is Avoid, Minimize, Mitigate and Enhance. Task force members who want no road at all object to prioritizing resources.
This is a road that has been proposed before. A narrow majority in the State Legislature voted for the project, ordering a construction start of 2022. Legislation sets aside $135 million for the first two years of planning. Knowing that the toll road will not pay for itself, the state says it can use construction bonds, public-private partnerships and other public financing to pay for the biggest road project in Florida since Interstate 75.