Plans for expansion and construction of three toll roads started rolling Tuesday in the Florida Senate, with the proposed projects eventually expected to require about $140 million a year in transportation funding.
The Senate Infrastructure and Security Committee unanimously supported the measure (SPB 7068), which is a top priority of Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.
The proposals would extend the Suncoast Parkway from the Tampa Bay area north to the Georgia border, extend Florida’s Turnpike west to hook up with the Suncoast Parkway and build a new transportation corridor from Polk County to Collier County.
The committee approval came over limited concerns that construction of the roads would spur sprawl in rural communities. Galvano contends that the new roads could help rural areas that have lagged economically behind other parts of the state.
Committee Chairman Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, said after the meeting that much of the proposal will be driven by local governments.
“It’s going to be kind of a choice between where the [Florida Department of Transportation] decides these connections to local roadways need to occur and what the local governments do with their land-use maps,” Lee said. “But there is no question that added transportation capacity improves mobility, makes it easier for people to get to and from work, and it creates a better opportunity for development to occur.”
Lee added growth is coming and the state is getting “pretty densely populated in some of these urban areas and there may be some opportunities to create some clusters outside the traditional urban corridors of our state that produce some economic opportunities for some of these counties that have been left behind.”
The proposal calls for the Department of Transportation, with $45 million next fiscal year, to study the three projects.
The funding would grow to $90 million in the 2020-21 fiscal year, about $135 million the next year and a recurring amount of $140 million starting in the 2022-23 fiscal year.
Part of the money would also cover local “feeder” roads to the new tollways.
The proposal calls for construction to begin by the end of 2022, with the roads open to traffic before Dec. 31, 2030.
David Cullen, a lobbyist for Sierra Club Florida, told the committee that growth impacts upon rural communities must be addressed.
“We’re concerned about the opportunity costs of fragmenting the landscape, habitat, watershed features and the tremendous potential for sprawl,” Cullen said. “The interchanges and intermingling of the roads, with providing from the get-go water and sewer, that is a recipe for sprawl.”
He added that some of the proposed benefits of the roads, such as hurricane evacuation routes or pedestrian trails and bikeways, can be done without accompanying tollways.
Before the meeting, Galvano addressed concerns previously expressed by Gov. Ron DeSantis on the potential financial impacts of toll roads on Floridians.
“One of the reasons I looked at the rural communities and the impacts there is to bring some economic opportunity by having the multi-use corridors,” Galvano said.
The toll revenue is needed, Galvano and Lee said, to secure bonds to pay for construction.
“We’ll explore all options, but if you’re really getting into putting projects online, and keeping them moving at a steady pace, and utilizing bonding, you have to have a revenue source,” Galvano said.
Galvano has said the roads would help rural communities, handle the state’s continued rapid growth, provide new hurricane-evacuation options, expand bicycle and pedestrian trails and lay the groundwork for new water and sewer lines and broadband.