Don’t Give Up Fight Over Toll Roads

Before the first bulldozer clears the first tree to make way for the recently approved expansion of Florida’s toll road system. a study commission will be appointed and convene meetings to hear what the public has to say.
We need to be involved.
I will guarantee that the people who are paid to lobby for the roads will show up.
The legislation signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, which calls for the roads to be under way by 2022, seems to guarantee that the study commissions will be simply a formality,
That is, it looks like a case in which Florida’s natural resources will be given a fair trial and shot at dawn.
That would be a mistake and probably won’t happen because nothing is that simpIe.
A lot will depend on whether local elected officials think the intrusion will affect their constituents’ quality of life, local traffic patterns and their local vision defined in their local growth plans.
A lot will depend on how skeptically participants in the process view the claim that the need for the roads is a given.
A lot will depend on what natural resources the roads’ proposed routes will affect.
There was recently a newspaper article that reviewed the history of how long it took to extend a toll road through the Wekiva River basin to complete the second half of a beltway around Orlando.
I would point out that the rest of the beltway was planned and constructed with much less discussion. That road is probably a better example of what opponents of the expansion of toll roads elsewhere in the state fear will occur if the turnpike system is expanded into more rural areas.
Over time, rooftops have replaced treetops in former rural areas as cities–mostly Orlando– extended their boundaries into the countryside.
There’s no reason to think the same thing won’t happen in other parts of the state if the roads are built.

Business Interests Unsurpisingly Push Signing Of Toll Road Bill

As Sierra Club and other environmental groups organized rallies around the state Tuesday  to urge Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto a bill that would siphon state general revenue into a proposal to build new toll roads through rural sections of Florida and the habitat of some of the rarest species in the state, business interests predictably launched their own publicity campaign to support it.
As reported in Florida Politics, a procession of statewide and local business leaders argued the roads are the answer to an increasingly overdeveloped state’s traffic congestion and freight movement problems.
The fallacy in this argument is that the congestion lies in urban areas and the proposed roads will be built elsewhere while already busy corridors that need improvements are being ignored.
A traffic accident recently shut down a two-lane section of State Road 60– one of Florida’s major east-west corridors– for nearly half a day. That’s a real transportation infrastructure problem, not an imaginary one.
Business groups raised the same familiar questionable arguments.
They want better access to ports. Florida’s major ports are in Tampa, Miami and Jacksonville, not Naples and Steinhatchee.
Long-distance hurricane evacuations are too rare to justify these new roads, especially  when improvinge local shelters would be more cost-effective in keeping people safe.
Local economic-development officials always want new roads because the resultant real estate sales and road contracts will  fatten a few well-connected colleagues wallets.
This isn’t really a fight about relieving traffic congestion, but a fight over what kind of vision we should have for growth-management and preservation of green spaces in this state.
Excuse us if we have little confidence in study commissions that will likely have pre-set agendas. And,  if they come up with questions about the feasibility or the projects, they will be dismissed as merely advisory.
Legislators, after all, always know best. All you have to do is ask them.
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decision on this proposal will affect Florida’s environmental sustainability for generations.
Let’s hope he makes the right decision.

Polk Commission Accepts Ancient Islands Proclamation On Endangered Species Day

Ancient Islands Chair Tom Palmer and County Commissioner Rick Wilson

There are plenty of endangered species in our own back yard.
That led Ancient Islands Sierra to draft and propose to the Polk County Commission a proclamation declaring May 17 National Endangered Species Day.
The proclamation was read at Tuesday’ morning’s session.
Commissioners were also presented with copies of a power point presentation depicting some examples of endangered species found locally.
The importance of protecting wildlife was underlined this week by the release of the summary of an international report that predicted human alteration of the planet could put as many as 1 million species in danger of extinction.
The causes for this threat include poaching, land alteration and the consequent loss or fragmentation of habitat, pollution and climate change.

Sierra’s Response To Toll Road Approval Vote

Today the Republican majority of the Florida House of Representatives approved a disastrous Toll Roads to Nowhere Bill that would be ruinous to the rural heartland of Florida and our state’s nature coast. The urban sprawl that would accompany the new toll roads would be deadly, devouring hundreds of thousands of acres of rural and natural lands, fragmenting wildlife habitat and polluting our rivers, springs, lakes and coastal waters.

Passage of the Toll Roads to Nowhere Bill is the equivalent of a declaration of war by the Legislature on Florida’s Environment, and it moves Sierra Club to respond in kind. It is the worst bill for Florida’s environment we have seen in more than 20 years.

Florida taxpayers will pay over $1 billion for these needless roads over the next decade. Money that could be spent on relieving our actual highway congestion issues will now instead be funneled into 320 miles of toll roads that will create massive sprawl and traffic. It’s a perversion of the old tax and spend analogy, taking tax money from hard working Floridians to give away to developers and landowners. In return they will pave over our rural and natural areas to line their own pockets with profits.
The Toll Roads to Nowhere bill is largely a pet project of one legislator, Senate President Bill Galvano. Galvano used his extraordinary powers over the state budget and bills sponsored by each Senator, to pressure his colleagues to approve the bill whether they liked it or not. He then did some horse-trading with Republican leadership of the Florida House of Representatives to make sure his bill would be passed there. In short, this one man imposed his will on the Senate, and then maneuvered House Republicans to vote for this terrible bill. Sierra Club is grateful to Representatives Evan Jenne, Margaret Good and 34 other House Democrats who refused to be intimidated and voted against the bill.

We join today with more than 90 other environmental organizations, citizens groups, and businesses to urge Governor DeSantis to veto the Toll Roads to Nowhere Bill. The Governor should ask Legislators to take a second look at this concept next year and broaden it into a study on how to manage Florida’s growth, stop harmful pollution, transition to clean, renewable energy, and meet the Sunshine State’s transportation needs over the next several decades.

We are hopeful that Governor DeSantis, who has stated that he is sensitive to the cost of toll roads on average Floridians, will recognize the bill as an affront to fiscal conservatism and veto it. And we haven’t forgotten that candidate DeSantis promised at a campaign stop in the Everglades on September 12, 2018, that he would “represent, maybe, an emergence of a Teddy Roosevelt-style Republican Party here in Florida.” We remind the Governor that Roosevelt used his Presidential authority to establish 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, four national game preserves, five national parks and 18 national monuments on over 230 million acres of public land; that’s quite a contrast to a Florida Legislature that just this year slashed spending for the Florida Forever program and passed a bill that would destroy much of the state’s rural and natural lands.
Should Governor DeSantis sign the Toll Roads to Nowhere Bill, Sierra Club will mobilize our resources to stop construction of the ruinous roads. We will organize opposition in impacted rural communities; activate more than 230,000 members and supporters in Florida; go to court to stop destruction of our natural lands; and hold accountable legislators who voted for the bill in the next election.