The idea of diverting millions of dollars of state funds from the state budget to build some new toll roads instead of funding projects such as the widening of State Road 60 that the public actually wants has received a lot of pushback lately.
An editorial in The Ledger as well as local columns have raised questions about the wisdom of the projects.
At a recent Heartland 2060 symposium, Florida Department of Transportation District 1 Secretary L.K.Nandam defended the idea of building parallel roads to existing state highway corridors as a way to meet future mobility needs.
The latest entry into the discussion is Sen. Ben Albritton of Wauchula, whose guest commentary published in The Ledger didn’t respond to the criticisms, but merely repeated the same talking points advanced by Sen. Bill Galvano, who was Senate President during the last session and the main influence in jamming this idea through the Legislature.
It is self-evident that building new roads always opens land to new development. All you have to do is to compare before and after aerial photographs of the routes of the Polk Parkway or the toll roads around the Orlando area to see the results.
The question throughout this debate is whether this is a desirable result for Florida’s heartland that contains the last remaining wide open spaces and important habitats for many of Florida’s vanishing wildlife species.
Additionally, although the roads are touted as a way to relieve urban congestion, the planned routes are far from the parts of the state that are experiencing congestion today. Instead, the likely outcome would be to introduce traffic congestion to parts of Florida that have never experienced any.
Additionally, it defies logic to think that there is some magical way to build your way out of congestion in the third most populous state in the nation.
Even more mystifying is the argument that t these roads are vital to extend water, sewer and broadband service to rural areas unless there are some secret plans for new cities that will become the new centers of commerce after the new roads bypass Wauchula, Arcadia and other established communities in southwest Florida.
Additionally, it is worth noting that the idea that broadband as an engine for economic development has recently come into question, according to a recent article in Governing magazine.
Anyway, there are more meetings on these road projects coming up later this month. One will be in Lakeland Oct. 30 following by an open house Oct. 31 in Wauchula. Meeting details are still unpublished.
People need to show up and educate themselves and ask questions.