Toll Road “Avoidance” Map Needs Work

Florida Department of Transportation officials released a more usable map of the areas the proposed toll road through the southwest Florida heartland will supposedly avoid.

To save face, they stamped it as a draft document.

Well, first the good news.

The road won’t cross any lakes, though rivers and creeks may be another since it is hard to cross that big an area without building a bridge somewhere.

State parks, state forests and national parks and national wildlife refuges are off limits. The map doesn’t depict all of the public conservation lands, so we’ll have to take their word for it.

Next, the fake news.

Local public conservation lands are supposedly protected, though the map depicts the Marshall Hampton Reserve on Lake Hancock as a protected area even though a northern leg of this project will push right through and raze the scenic oak hammock on its northern end.

Some privately owned conservation lands and private lands protected by conservation easements are depicted on the map. Many are not.

It will be interesting to see if anyone raises questions about whether building a new highway through land protected by a conservation easement violates the easement provisions.

Additionally, some of the so-called avoidance areas lie in areas where it never seemed likely the road’s route would be located in the first place even though they lie in the study area, creating an impression of environmental generosity that didn’t really exist.

Finally, the map appears to ignore any lands listed as high-priority conservation purchases that remain unfunded because the Florida Legislature refuses to appropriate the money authorized by a constitutional amendment.

The next southwest toll road task force meeting will occur next Wednesday at the Bert Harris Agriculture Center in Sebring.