Florida toll road planning moves forward, with mixed reviews

The Florida Department of Transportation is looking over plans sent to the governor's office this month, outlining possible toll roads through major parts of the state. The Tampa Bay area is included in some of the potential planning.

After a year and a half of listening to Floridians in public meetings, the results are mixed.

“This bill is trying to revitalize rural communities. It’s seeking to protect our water and our natural areas. There’s ways to do that. A toll road is not the way to do that,” said Lindsay Cross, the government relations director with Florida Conservation Voters, a nonpartisan nonprofit that advocates for the environment.

Three taskforce groups submitted final reports as part of the Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (M-CORES) program, outlining what to consider if crews move forward with building toll roads in three regions spanning up north to the Georgia border all the way to Polk County through Collier County.

“We felt good about the information that we gave FDOT, and for them to go forward and make some common-sense decisions,” said Gary Ritter, the assistant director of government and community affairs with Florida Farm Bureau Federation. “I think most of our Farm Bureau, local counties were more interested in improving existing infrastructure and then those connector roads.”

Along with recommending another look at roads already there, thousands of people also shared concerns about the Florida panther.

Florida Conservation Voters said new roads in the southwest-central area will cut through the panther’s habitat.

“There’s really no way that the Florida panther can survive if we have new roads and the development that will come along with those roads,” said Cross.

FDOT said the state is growing, so there’s a need for more connections. The state wants to bring more economic development to rural areas, including jobs and broadband, so the task force's final report recommended what FDOT should keep in mind.

“Hopefully they’ll take that, they’ll be able to use that and make, go forward and make some decisions with that,” said Ritter of the task force report.

The Florida Conservation Voters said there’s no need for new toll roads when money could be invested in getting backlogged projects finished.

FDOT said they will move to the next phase, which will include economic and environmental impact studies to see what the best option forward will be.