Still More Questions Than Answers On Southwest Toll Road Proposal

The legislative-mandated effort create a new highway through southwest Florida from Lakeland to Naples through possibly some of the last wild areas of this state remains long on rhetoric and short on details.

That’s how things looked during the latest meeting Thursday in Moore Haven.

There are still no maps of proposed routes or paths within which the routes might lie even though they were promised to be rolled out by last month.

It is still unclear whether county growth plans will influence the path of the proposed toll road or the proposed toll roads will force county officials to rewrite their plans.

That is, once again home rule may be thrown out the window to satisfy another top-down state dictate, but six months into the discussion local officials are still left in the dark. Add to that the admission that city growth plans have not been used much in the analysis

The discussion on using county land-use maps to figure this revealed that there is so much wiggle room in the provisions governing land-use classifications, that the distinction between rural and urban development areas can be a bit blurred at times. That is, yeah, the map says low-density rural agricultural, but if you bring in a water lines or sewer lines or do a planned development and put in sidewalks and plant trees, welcome to the suburbs.

It seems using rail more for freight movement rather than building new roads is an option that doesn’t seem to have been explored enough.

The plans presented on existing state roads didn’t detail which sections are failing to move traffic very well during peak times of the day. What the ultimate buildout of highways such as Interstate 75 seemed suddenly mysterious to transportation officials ordered to push the new roads because this could also affect whether expanding existing roads will solve the problems building new roads are supposed to solve.

How to pay for all of this was another work in progress since the turnpike folks don’t have unlimited bonding capacity. That is because of their existing obligation to deal with the debt they’ve already piled up in building previous projects. The alternative appears to either raid another state fund or to find private sector funding, but that’s still up in the air.

The standard answer to most of these questions from the Florida Department of Transportation staff running the meeting was that they’d try to assemble the data for the next meeting, which will be March 4 in Sebring.

Meanwhile, if anyone had any doubt about the cozy relationship between the roadbuilding lobby and state government, they got another piece of information to remove that doubt.

It seems that the Florida Legislature approved a three-year program to turn state agencies into the employee recruitment arm of the roadbuilding industry rather than letting the private sector take on this responsibility itself. Where are those people calling for market solutions instead of government subsidies when you need them?

Additionally, this program sponsors its job fairs in urban areas, where people have jobs for the most part, rather than in rural areas where many people are looking for good jobs based on the higher unemployment rates there.