A proposal to undertake the largest road construction project in Florida in decades was approved Wednesday by the Florida House and now goes to the desk of Gov. Ron DeSantis for his consideration. The bill passed on a 76-36 vote.
The road building plan is one of the priorities of Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who proposed the idea in January. The plan calls for the development of three multi-use corridors in west and north Florida, including the extension of both the Florida Turnpike and the Suncoast Parkway.
“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 sent to senators laying out his plan shortly after the first of the year.
But the proposed toll roads have been criticized for the environmental threats to sensitive wetlands that sit along the proposed corridors and for threatening urban sprawl in rural areas of the state.
“The bill before us today is the most massive expansion of our highway system since the 1950s. Let’s not green-light a project without having the proper facts,” said Rep. Bobby DuBose, D-Fort Lauderdale. “We are basically handing over a blank check.”
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.
“These new infrastructure corridors will help Florida strategically plan for future population growth, revitalize rural communities, and enhance public safety, while at the same time protecting Florida’s unique natural resources and habitats,” Galvano said following passage of the bill in the House. “We look to sending this innovative approach to infrastructure to Governor DeSantis for his consideration.”
The road construction bill would allocate $45 million next year to create task forces to study the economic and environmental impacts of the new three toll roads. The bill would require the three task forces to complete their work by June 30, 2020.
If the projects proceed, the plan would call for the appropriation of $90 million in 2021 and increasing to about $135 million the next year. A recurring allocation of $140 million would begin in the 2022-2023 fiscal year.
Construction on the toll roads would have to begin by the end of 2022 and the roads would have to be completed and open to traffic before Dec. 31, 2030.