“The powers that be in Florida’s government cannot seem to understand that keeping it rural and keeping it protected as rural actually has an economic value.” OSFR Board member Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson.
If these toll roads go through, the development that will accompany them will be devastating to an already over-taxed ecosystem. Previous studies have shown the current needs can be met by modifying the current road corridors and now our non-leaders want to spend three hundred million to duplicate them. And give their business cronies lucrative jobs to build roads we don’t need.
Read the original article by Carl McKinney here in the Lake City Reporter.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
Sunday, JUNE 2, 2019
Could new roadways bring commerce to county?
By CARL MCKINNEY [email protected]
Pitched as an economic boon for rural North Florida, plans are moving forward for a new stretch of toll road from the Tampa Bay area to the Georgia line. But opinions are mixed about whether the project will actually deliver on proponents’ claims. A project to extend the Suncoast Parkway from Citrus to Jefferson County is one of three toll road initiatives in a bill signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in May.
The measure’s state House sponasor, Republican Rep. Jay Trumbull of Panama City, has said the new infrastructure will spark an influx of economic activity, drawing parallels to the interstate highway system. The Suncoast extension’s exact path is unclear. Lake City-based developer Scott Stewart said the new north-south corridor will benefit the region. “Because roads are the engine of growth in a way,” Stewart said. “You don’t have roads, you don’t have anything.” Even if the Suncoast extension doesn’t pass through Columbia County, the impact may still be felt here to some extent, Stewart said. “If our neighbor’s stronger, we’re stronger,” Stewart said.
Local real estate agent Daniel Crapps has doubts about the Suncoast extension’s economic value. “My personal opinion is it won’t spur much of anything,” Crapps said. The toll road passes through “the middle of nowhere,” Crapps said. “And it will still be the middle of nowhere with a road going through it,” he said. State Senate President Bill Galvano has made the toll roads a top priority, focusing on the economic benefits while also pitching them as a way to facilitate mass evacuations.
Environmental advocates oppose the road, such as Fort White resident, business owner and water conservation advocate Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson. Malwitz-Jipson said the new road will lead to unwanted urban sprawl in North Florida, as she has seen happen in South Florida. The region’s natural beauty attracts tourists, and it’s why many people chose to live here in the first place, she said. “The powers that be in Florida’s government cannot seem to understand that keeping it rural and keeping it protected as rural actually has an economic value,” she said.
Under the plan now in motion, task forces would be formed to examine each highway with the goal of beginning construction before Dec. 31, 2022. That means the roads could be opened by Dec. 31, 2030. Job growth was another argument for DeSantis and Galvano, who made the toll roads a top priority.
“We need new roads to get around,” DeSantis said when asked earlier Friday if he was going to sign the bill. “We’re probably going to need more than that, just given how our state’s growing and just given that traffic can be a big problem. I’m supportive of infrastructure.” DeSantis signed the bill about an hour later in Longboat Key in a private ceremony with Galvano and other lawmakers.
Environmentalists had been urging him to veto the bill since the Legislature passed it in the final days of the legislative session that ended May 4. Since taking office in January, DeSantis has been praised by environmentalists on a number of issues, including protecting the Everglades and addressing issues like algae blooms and climate change. Friday’s bill signing left them grumbling.
“Gov. DeSantis’ decision to OK the expressway-expansion bill is like signing a death warrant for our state’s most vulnerable species, like the Florida panther and Florida black bear,” Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a news release. “It’s disappointing to see his environmental agenda weaken with this blatant handout to the construction industry and billionaire landowners who stand to profit from roadway corridors and the sprawl they enable.”
But DeSantis said in a news release after the bill signing that care will be taken to protect the environment. “These infrastructure improvements will be built with great sensitivity toward the protection of the environment and there are mechanisms within the legislation that help ensure that occurs,” he said. The News Service of Florida contributed to this story.