Florida’s controversial new toll roads hit a potential roadblock this week.

Two of them are supposed to cut through rural Levy County, near Ocala. But Levy commissioners voted 3-2 on Tuesday to say they do not want them — primarily because of the development they would bring.

“I don’t want to see Levy County become another Tampa Bay, and that’s what’s going to happen if we don’t stand up and say no,” said Levy commissioner Lilly Rooks, who brought up the resolution.

The vote wasn’t as close as it seems. The two commissioners who voted against it said they agree with Rooks’ position, but believed the county should wait to take such a stand until later this year. The majority didn’t want to wait because they believe the governor and Legislature were rushing everything through to start construction in two years.

“The people of this county do not want this road. They have voiced their opinion. I’m here to speak for them because there’s a lot of opposition,” Commissioner Mike Joyner said.

“’No-build’ is always an option and all proposed transportation projects must ultimately meet financial and environmental feasibility,” Department of Transportation spokeswoman Beth Frady said. The department “appreciates the input” from Levy County, she said.

“There’s really no strong appetite for these roads”

Florida already has more toll road miles than any other state. But with the coronavirus pandemic keeping cars and trucks parked, the state’s toll roads are producing far less revenue than they brought in last year. (DOT’s turnpike officials did not respond to a request for exact figures.)

There’s no telling when – or if — traffic will return to the level it was at before the pandemic struck, especially if the nation falls into a recession. The sudden emptiness of Florida’s once-packed roadways has raised the question: Does Florida still need that trio of billion-dollar toll roads that Gov. Ron DeSantis approved last year?

“There’s really no strong appetite for these roads,” said Charles Lee of Audubon Florida, who sits on one of the advisory groups appointed to study the toll roads.

Lee questioned whether the loss of toll revenue will make it impossible for the state to borrow enough money to build the new highways without cutting into money for maintenance of the existing toll road system.

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