Takeaways From Latest MCORES Webinar Technology Panel: It Won’t Be Cheap Or Ready Anytime Soon

More widespread application of emerging technologies to promote connected and autonomous vehicles are still far in the future is t he reality despite some of the hype that was used to argue for the construction of new toll roads through rural Florida corridors.

That was one of the important takeaways from the latest webinar designed to advance the discussion of plans to build a network of toll roads from the edge of the Everglades to the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp.

Another takeaway was implementing this technology, which is the focus of a lot of public and privately funded research, will be expensive.

That’s because the infrastructure along with the support system—maintenance, power supplies, staffing, technology upgrades—all carry high capital and operating costs.

Additionally, the technology is still perhaps 15 years away from being fully developed, a webinar expert explained.

The big picture idea behind this effort is to create a system that helps traffic to move more smoothly and safely, though there was an admission that all of the technology being considered cannot totally overcome the variability of human behavior.

Meanwhile, a report in today’s New York Times reveals that research on this technology is facing additional delays because of the coronavirus epidemic because it prevents two people from occupying a vehicle to conduct some of the testing. There is no word on when conditions will allow that kind of hands-on research to resume.

Finally, though the discussion of this new technology, similar to an earlier technical presentation of expanding fiber networks for broadband, did a good job of explaining the benefits of the new technology, it never really presented a convincing argument about why spending $10 billion for this new road network is vital for advancing either technology.

Following the formal presentations, critics once again criticized the use of the webinar format because it is less transparent and has created a situation where some staff discussions are occurring out of public view without providing an opportunity to comment.



TECO Plans More Solar In Polk

Tampa Electric continues is plans to expand its solar power infrastructure in Polk County.

The latest proposal involves another 74.9-megawatt facility on a site south of State Road 60 near the intersection of Coronet Road west of Mulberry. The property appears to be former cropland.

Relatively undeveloped areas in southwest Polk have been the site of several other TECO solar facilities. An attempt to build a solar farm in Lake Alfred was rebuffed by officials there who opted for rooftops, not solar panels in former citrus groves at the edge of the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern.

TECO serves the Mulberry, Auburndale and Lake Alfred areas of Polk County.

The utility is also building solar farms in neighboring Hillsborough County as part of its effort to expand its green energy portfolio.

What If The Voters Had A Say On Those Toll Roads To Nowhere?

If the planned system of toll roads stretching from the Everglades to the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp were put to a popular vote, I wonder how it would do.

I was thinking about that after listening to another round of public comments last week at the conclusion of a brief online meeting of the task force appointed to come up with recommendations that would set the stage for building some sort of highway between Lakeland and Naples.

There’s another toll road proposed between Tampa and the Georgia border somewhere between Tallahassee and Jacksonville.

I mention an election because as it turns out, the coronavirus outbreak that has closed down much of Florida has also moved the deadline for the completion of the task force reports to sometime after the general election in November.

I wonder how many people challenging incumbent members of the Florida Legislature will make the vote to approve this boondoggle or a vote to repeal it a campaign issue.

If the public comments following the meeting are any measure of popular sentiment, I’d say it might be worth a shot because there was nearly unanimous opposition from the public.

The only support is coming from the road-building and development lobbies, who represent special interests.


Some State, County Parks Open; Roads To Ruin Site Launched

Just to catch everyone up on what’s happening while we’re holed up at home.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection announced some park openings beginning Monday. The only parks in this area that will be open will be the Gen. James Van Fleet Trail and Allen David Broussard Catfish Creek State Park. Polk County reopened its environmental lands sites Friday.

South Florida Water Management District recreation lands in this part of the state remain closed, but the Southwest Florida Water Management District sites remain open except for camping.

Meanwhile, the No Roads To Ruin Coalition has launched a site to provide the latest information and commentary on the plan to jam new toll roads through rural areas of Florida from the Everglades to the Okeefenokee. You can see the site at noroadstoruin.org .

Green Groups Plan Big Turnout For Toll Road Meetings

People interested in protecting Florida’s heartland from more urban sprawl and keeping essential wildlife habitat as roadless as possible will be tuning in for Tuesday’s online meeting of the task forces studying three proposed new toll roads through rural sections of Florida from the Everglades to the Georgia border.

The online meetings were set up to follow the coronavirus health guidelines to avoid mass gatherings.

We’ll give you a follow-up of the results later this week.

In Stressful Times, Shutting Us Out Of Nature Is A Mistake

The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in decisions to close many natural areas at a time when people need the balm of a quiet outdoor experience to help them to get through this stressful time.

The latest decision came from the South Florida Water Management District, which closed its outdoor recreation areas Tuesday.

This follows a decision to close all of the state parks and many beaches and city and county parks and environmental preserves.

For the moment, state and national forests, national wildlife refuges and most other recreation lands managed by the other water management districts remain open along with wildlife management areas overseen by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission though visitor centers and administrative offices are closed to the public St. Johns River Water Management District has closed the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive temporarily

This is ironic because Gov. Ron DeSantis’ stay-at-home order specifically exempts hiking, hunting, fishing and boating as long as you observe the important social-distancing recommendations.

Perhaps public input can persuade officials to modify the restrictions in ways that can provide outdoor recreation opportunities without threatening public health.

We’ll see. Stay healthy.

Polk Shutting Down Park , Environmental Lands Sites

Polk County officials announced Friday they are closing county parks and environmental lands facilities effective at sunset on Saturday as part of the Coronavirus prevention strategy.

The press release mentions ballfields, shooting ranges, campgrounds and playgrounds as well as the Bone Valley ATV site.

How the closings will be accomplished was not disclosed. Some facilities have gates or road entrances that can be blocked, but others are in neighborhoods.

The idea seems to be to discourage large public gatherings, though some of the remote environmental lands sites are not heavily visited.

It was interesting that boat ramps were not specifically mentioned, perhaps indicating county officials were more willing to inconvenience birdwatchers and hikers than anglers and boaters.

Also notable was the fact that Polk’s communication folks waited until the day of the closing to announce it. The cynical explanation is that allows them to make an announcement at time when official sources are more difficult to reach for reactions.

It will be interesting to see if state officials in charge of state parks, state forests and other conservation lands will take similar steps. They so far seem more sensible about the value of green spaces to the public.