OUR POSITION: While they are still a long ways off, it is just not the right time to be discussing billions of dollars for toll roads in Florida.
Time is winding down for public comment on the proposed Southwest Central Florida Corridor — part of a new toll road system being pitched for the state.
The toll road proposal has been around for a while. When, and if, it’s built it would provide an alternative route from South Florida to the Georgia border, starting on the East Coast and in Collier County on the West Coast. It’s a grand plan in some regards — offering a quicker, safer way to get out of Florida, to Orlando or Jacksonville and Tallahassee. It would, supporters say, also generate growth for less populated interior counties and bring commerce and broadband service to places poorly served now.
But there are serious drawbacks its proponents prefer to downplay.
First of all is the environmental impact to wetlands, farm land and the Florida panther. No matter how rosy a picture is being painted, no one can deny those concerns.
A task force charged with looking at the pros and cons of the roads and making a report for lawmakers to see, has raised all those concerns while allowing for boasts of how much the roads would benefit residents along their paths — not to mention landowners, road builders and developers who will get rich off the project.
A 30-page report on the impacts of the southern-most portion of the toll road project has been prepared. It failed to come to any strong conclusions on how great the damage would be to the environment or the real need for these roads.
We’ll go on record as saying we need another interior route south to north in Florida. It’s been needed for a long time and that need will only balloon over time.
But, whether this plan is the best plan and whether whatever routes are decided on are the least destructive to our environment are unknowns.
The most immediate obstacle, however, is the cost and the financial predicament the state finds itself in during the pandemic.
Even with construction of the toll roads years away, cost is a concern as the Florida Legislature readies to convene in 2021 facing a budget shortfall of nearly $5 billion according to just about every lawmaker we have polled. Everyone is asking where the budget cuts will be made while trying to protect projects in their home districts.
Right now, according to a Sun story in Tuesday’s paper by Betsy Calvert, the road study will cost the state $484 million a year for five years before any decision is made.
That’s not a budget breaker but it’s not chump change either.
Charlotte County Commissioners Chris Constance, Ken Doherty and Joe Tiseo — who sit on the task force — seem generally in favor of the road plan, but have reservations about the cost and the slow progress deciding on where the roads will go.
The public can see the final report at an open house, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Charlotte Harbor Event and Conference Center in Punta Gorda. You can make comments online at www.floridamcores.com or mail comments to FDOT, 605 Suwanee St. MS 54, Tallahassee, FL 32399.