Gov. Ron DeSantis has reservations about toll roads and their impact they have on the finances of average Floridians.
“It’s just something that I am sensitive to,” DeSantis said Tuesday. “Before I had this job I drove everywhere.”
And like every other Floridian, he had to pay tolls.
“You look at places like South Florida and some of these people in Miami who are commuting and they’re paying huge amounts of money for tolls,” DeSantis added. “They have to live very far away. These are generally working people who aren’t making huge amounts of money, which is something I’m sensitive to.”
A proposal to create three new transportation/infrastructure corridors along the west side of Florida is making its way through the legislative process. It’s a priority of Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who announced the road construction plan in January.
All three highways would be toll roads.
“We have a responsibility to not only meet today’s needs, but also to anticipate tomorrow’s demands, including a focus on revitalizing historic rural Florida communities,” Galvano said in a memo he sent to senators.
Galvano’s plan would extend the Suncoast Parkway north of Tampa all the way to the Georgia border. The Florida Turnpike would be extended west and intersect with the Suncoast Parkway. The third corridor would be constructed from Polk County to Collier County.
The corridors run through what Galvano describes as “the spine” of the state, rural areas that have largely been ignored when it comes to past infrastructure funding and now face economic challenges and a loss of jobs.
“These extensions of our existing infrastructure have been under consideration by the Department of Transportation and advocated by leaders of business and industry for many years,” Galvano said. “The time has come to prioritize these critical infrastructure enhancements and to combine those efforts with innovations that enhance surrounding communities, while providing new opportunities for job creation.”
Last week, a House committee gave a green light to the three major road construction projects. The House Transportation & Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee voted to support a bill that would set aside $45 million next fiscal year to create three separate task forces to study the economic and environmental impacts of each road project.
DeSantis was asked Tuesday if he could support the expansion of toll roads given the reservations he has expressed in the past about the financial impacts such roads have on Floridians.
“Our D.O.T. secretary has said that reducing congestion, particularly in areas where the problem is extremely acute like South Florida and Central Florida, is a priority for me and that will require some additional ways to get around the state,” DeSantis said. “And I think roads are going to be a part of that.”
DeSantis says he’ll have to see the details of the plan if and when the road projects make it to his desk.
The plan would increase funding from $45 million next fiscal year to pay for studies of the three projects to $90 million in the 2020-2021 fiscal year. The funding would increase to about $135 million the next year with a recurring amount of $140 million starting in the 2022-2023 fiscal year.
The bill would require the three task forces to complete their work by June 30, 2020. If the projects proceed, construction would have to begin by the end of 2022 and the roads to open to traffic before Dec. 31, 2030.