Toll road recommendations draw mixed reactions

By Jim Turner | News Service of Florida via WMBB Panama City, Fox 35 OrlandoLake City ReporterTampa Bay Business JournalDaily Business Review

Recommendations approved this week about controversial toll-road projects planned to run through rural areas of Florida drew mixed reactions from two environmental groups that participated in task forces that reviewed the projects.

Meanwhile, 1000 Friends of Florida declared in a letter to Department of Transportation Secretary Kevin Thibault that the task force reports fail to address measures to keep the roads from fueling urban sprawl in rural areas.

The projects would extend the Suncoast Parkway from Citrus County to Jefferson County near the Georgia border, extend Florida’s Turnpike from Wildwood to connect with the Suncoast Parkway, and create a new road linking Polk and Collier counties.

“The failure to protect natural resources and rural communities from the impacts of sprawl leaves the distinct impression that one of the purposes of these highways is to spur new residential development in rural areas, and that purpose is not found anywhere in the M-CORES statute,” said the letter from 1000 Friends, referring to a 2019 law that began work on the projects formally known as Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance, or M-CORES.

The letter was signed by 1000 Friends Chairwoman Susan Trevarthen, President Paul Owens, board member Andrew Dickman and past policy and planning director Thomas Hawkins. It noted they support language in the reports demanding that economic feasibility and traffic data be obtained indicating a need for the roads before advancing engineering studies.

But the organization wanted it known the report’s water down or fail to provide adequate safeguards for resources of statewide significance, such as drinking water, in leaving land acquisition at interchanges as a local government issue.

“At the end of the day, we think the directives in the report fall short of the mandate in the statute — and our bottom line — to protect the environment and revitalize rural communities,” the letter said.

Owens, Dickman and Hawkins each served on one of the three task forces.

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