Speeches by Young Leaders against toll roads delivered to the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council

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We have written several times lately about the Young Leaders For Wild Florida, directed by Oscar Psychas, from Alachua County.  The following are  transcriptions of their speeches delivered to the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council in Lake City on June 27, 2019.  The group  was very well received by the Council.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-


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Christian Landaeta:

Good evening, council members, my name is Christian Landaeta and I’m a concerned 19 year-old from Gainesville, Florida, 8722 NW 35th Lane.

First of all, I want to briefly thank all of you for taking the time to listen to us voice our sentiments about the 7068 Toll Roads.

Alright, now, straight to the chase. I understand that some of the main reasons that these toll roads appear like a great plan is because they’re supposed to offer jobs, help urbanize rural communities, and (obviously) to help fight traffic congestion, but there’s way more to talk about than that.

Yes, the toll roads will offer jobs. Temporal jobs that don’t require experience; minimum-wage paying jobs. Once these toll roads are finally built, the workers who built them won’t have stable jobs to go to afterwards. Now, of course, these workers can just find work at some of the rural communities which’ll grow and expand when more people arrive to them through these toll roads, right? Well, actually, not so much.

These toll roads will help urbanize rural communities, yes, but that doesn’t mean that they will empower or help these communities thrive. This kind of urbanization will lead to non-local businesses and big-name corporation chains that’ll eventually drive out local businesses. The money made by big corporations will not return to these areas.

I mean, in the time I’ve lived here, I’ve seen firsthand–actually, I believe that everyone in this room has seen firsthand–a myriad of forests, wetlands, and habitats for wildlife get bulldozed down and turned into these concrete plazas, malls, or suburbs; you name it.

Council members, I urge you to stop the Suncoast Connector Toll Road from being implemented. I urge you, along with our group of young leaders, and along with all of us Floridians who have–and especially those who haven’t–seen the real beauty this state has to offer, to please conserve the beauty we have in this state. We all have the right to experience Florida’s natural beauty, not man-made imitations of it.

Thank you so much for your time.

 

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Ivan Landaeta:  

Hello, I’m Ivan Landaeta and I’m 17. I am here to speak out against the Senate Bill 7068, also known as the proposed toll road which is a plan to connect the SunCoast all the way down to Naples.

According to the Bill, the program is suppose to “Revitalize rural communities, encourage job creation and provide regional connectivity while leveraging technology, enhancing the quality of life and public safety, and protecting the environment and natural resources.”

While it may accomplish only some of these goals, it still fall far from achieving all of these goals in a sustainable manner. Yes, its creates jobs, but the rest will only last until the road is finished and the rest will be low wage, unskilled, seasonal jobs. It will revitalize rural communities, but it will do so via gentrification, which will displace the more vulnerable members of the community. On top of all that, it will also harm the environment and our natural resources by destroying our beautiful forests, fragmenting wildlife habitats, and even possibly damaging the quality of our watersheds.

This toll road may temporarily help transportation in a rapidly urbanizing Florida, but more availability only leads to more demand. As urbanization advances, it is of utmost importance that we protect the beautiful Florida we live in today. If not, we may see a near future in which people will use the road to leave the Sunshine State instead of visiting it. I truly hope that a more economically feasible as well as a more environmentally friendly alternative can be achieved for the sake of all of Florida and its future.

Thank you for your time.

 

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Elizabeth Walker:

Hello my name is Elizabeth Walker, I am 18 years old, and I’ve lived in Florida my whole life. These new toll roads, or specifically the suncoast connector, will change rural towns into urban centers. This is not the Florida I want for our future. I admit that going to places like Disney is fun, but my favorite Florida memories are scalloping in Steinhatchee, swimming in Rock Bluff Springs, and swinging into rivers like the Suwannee. Ingrained in these memories are the winding country roads and scenic rural towns on the way. My mom always talks about how some strip mall used to be an orange grove or forest, as I’m sure many of you have told to your children. Council members, please don’t force these words into my mouth as well. We are standing at a crossroads. One path leads to a Florida full of concrete, asphalt, and manufactured beauty. On the other path, a Florida where nature and people live cohesively. A toll road intersecting the heart of Florida is a step toward urban sprawl and needless destruction of the gifts that Florida has. We can always decide to build a road later. But after this monster is developed, it cannot be undone.

 

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Makena Lang: 

Hello everyone, my name is Makena Lang. I’m 17 years old, born and raised in Gainesville. I am here to oppose the construction of SB 7068. As a citizen of North Florida, I ask you to do everything in your power to halt the construction of the Suncoast Connector. When I first learned about these plans, quite honestly, I was dismayed. These toll roads will have detrimental impacts on our Floridian environment, specifically by increasing our carbon footprint, progressing global climate change, and polluting our groundwater.

Transportation on roads makes up for nearly one third of U.S. carbon emissions, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. The fundamental law of road congestion states that building more roads actually encourages more traffic, therefore increasing carbon emissions.

Along with this, new toll roads will also immensely pollute our aquifer and our waterways. As you know, toll roads lead to sprawl. By constructing them, you will be causing pollution in previously undeveloped areas. The Suncoast Connector will be built directly on top of one of the most vulnerable absorption areas for our aquifer.

Council members, let me ask you this: is it worth possible contamination of our groundwater, on which so many rely for clean drinking water, for a toll road? Your mission statement includes “protecting regional resources”. Well, I can confidently say that building these toll roads would do the exact opposite. Please stick to your word and do everything in your power to stop SB 7068, for the sake of your people and the land they live on.

Thank you for your time.

 

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Oscar Psychas:

Good evening council members, my name is Oscar Psychas. I was born in Gainesville, graduated from Eastside High School. My address is 7000 Lake Shore Drive, Gainesville. I’ve come here to speak against the proposed toll roads.

Two years ago, I walked across North Central Florida from my home in Gainesville to Tallahassee to urge our legislature to fully fund Florida forever. I walked right through where they’re talking about putting a toll-road, through the bluffs of the Suwannee River, the pines and pastures of Madison County. On the trail, I met people from these rural communities, firefighters, professional gator catchers, hunters. And they all told me the same thing: it’s the natural and rural character of this place that makes them love living here. Their jobs and businesses and futures depend upon its wellbeing. In North Florida, our unique natural environment and rural way of life are at the very foundation of the good life and our greatest hope for a prosperous future.

I am also introducing the Young Leaders for Wild Florida, a group of teens from Alachua county. I founded this summer program with the Alachua Conservation Trust to support the next generation of leaders for Florida’s environment and the communities that depend on it. Every day we’ve been outside exploring and working in our local swamps, woods, and waterways in six counties.

We’ve also learned from ten community leaders from the older generation such as Commissioner Cornell. Seeing leaders such as you work for the future of our communities inspires us to give back to this place. Just as your generation has witnessed the changes that have happened in Florida, I ask you to consider what we will witness in a state projected to lose five million acres of wild and rural land to sprawl by 2070, when we’ll hopefully be raising grandkids.

Us young people have learned from history that building toll roads in rural areas creates the same pattern of sprawl that has chewed up so much of Central Florida, if you look at the I-4 corridor. If these toll roads are built, we’re the ones who will inherit shattered ecosystems, polluted water, divided communities, and low-paying jobs. We’ll be paying for the tens of billions of taxpayer dollars they’re borrowing for this road. Decades from now, we’ll realize too late that we can’t build a prosperous and healthy future for North Florida in the 21st century if we destroy what brings our communities to life in the first place.

Council members, I ask you to reject these toll roads and instead listen to your constituents and support real development. Real development that realizes environmental protection and economic growth aren’t opposed: they’re the same thing. Look at the clam or scalloping industry, the businesses we attract in Gainesville thanks to our natural spaces and springs. Look at our state parks, which bring more visitors per year than Disney’s Magic Kingdom. Real development starts with the communities that people actually live in today, in Steinhatchee and Perry and Trenton, not building sprawl out in the woods that leaves those communities behind. Real development is based off the needs of our constituents, not of the transportation industry. I ask you to reject this toll road and build a future for us, for your kids and grandkids, by supporting development where our communities need it: in our existing roads, in our downtowns, in our farms, our parks, our schools.

And that’s why we hope you agree that our communities and our leaders need to hold community meetings, think this issue through, figure out what matters most for North Florida, and work together now to protect what is too precious to lose.

Thank you for your time.

 

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Noah Turner: 

Howdy y’all. I’m Noah Turner from Alachua county, address 4190 NW 50th drive. Before I begin I’d like to thank y’all for hearin’ what we’ve gotta say. I’m here to speak against the construction of the SB 7068 toll road otherwise known as the SunCoast connector.

These past three weeks I’ve had the utmost pleasure of seeing North Florida’s wildest & most pristine springs, forests, wetlands & rivers. It breaks my heart to know that those same springs, forests, wetlands & rivers are now endangered by the SunCoast connector. I’ve read through SB-7068 & I firmly believe the environmental amendments, specifically lines 177 through 251, are an inadequate means of addressing the public concern for wildlife habitat in the affected area. The best way to protect Florida’s natural wildlife—a major scientific as well as economic resource—is to simply not build the road at all. It’s an absolute contraindication to say that a “purpose” of the toll road is to “Protect the environment & natural resources” as claimed on line 135 when the “Multi-Use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance Program” will be an impenetrable wall fragmenting the entire connected ecosystem of Northern Florida. The destruction of this critical wild area means the destruction of the communities that live in tandem with it. They are symbiotic, and mutually depend on each other for health and quality of life.

So now I’d also like to pose to y’all a question. Why do you think folks love livin’ in Florida? Do you reckon it might have anything to do with Florida’s unique and beloved wilderness? The livelihood of rural communities? Maybe it’s the relationship between people and nature that is so coveted by so many? I can tell you what isn’t & that’s low-density urban sprawl and golf courses and municipalities. People love Florida because they love Florida’s one of a kind springs, it’s world famous nature trails, it’s breathtaking raw wilderness, the fact that you can actually go & explore the swamps & woods untouched by the centuries of human development. Somethin’ special that is found nowhere else in the Western world.

The SB 7068 toll road that’ll destroy the heart of Florida’s last swath of untouched wilderness? That ain’t why I came to Florida. An’ that’s not the Florida we want for our future children. All over the United States the natural landscape is being transformed at a disturbing rate. Let Florida’s wilderness be spared. You wouldn’t burn a one-of-a-kind Da Vinci painting just so you can cook a meal, so why would we allow the destruction of Florida’s one-of-a-kind environment for a toll road? If it comes down to being able to camp by the Suwannee, or teach my future kids to swim in the springs, or scallop off the coast with all my friends, versus gettin’ to Tampa 30 minutes earlier? I’ll take the memories that’ll last me a lifetime any day of the week. So please, in the name of common sense & for every person in North Central Florida who you have sworn to “improve the quality of their life”, do everything in your power to stop the SB 7068 SunCoast connector.

Thank you for your time, have a blessed day.

 

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Emma Turner: 

Howdy, my name is Emma Turner. I’m 18 years old and I live in Gainesville, Alachua County. I’m here to inform that the SunCoast toll road proposed in SB 7068 will have negligible effects on traffic congestion along the North-South I-75 corridor, and will instead contribute to over-crowded motorways in a previously underdeveloped parcel of Florida landscape.

This conclusion is supported by the claim that construction of new roads to cure traffic congestion is a futile and wasteful endeavor.

    1. Road lobbyists insist that the only way to reduce the ever-growing demand for highway space is to build new roads. However, growing evidence suggests the opposite. A paper published by the American Economic Review (“The Fundamental Law of Road Congestion”) states that “interstate vehicle kilometers traveled increases one for one with interstate highways”, and that expansion of major roads is “unlikely to relieve congestion.”
    2. More concisely, construction of new highways may relieve traffic on I-75 for a few months, or maybe a year, but eventually as demand increases, more automobiles will flood into the created vacancies.
  1. The SunCoast connector is not an adequate solution to motorway use. As a citizen of the North Central Florida region, I urge you to consider the alternative.

Methods of traffic mitigation involving the renovation and maintenance of existing interstate infrastructure include, but are not limited to (bullets):

    1. Eliminating recurring highway bottlenecks by installing breakdown lanes, widening ramps and narrow sections of road, and adding exit lanes.
    2. Smoothing the flow of vehicles. Speed harmonizations reduce sudden stops along a network and reduces serious crashes (and subsequent traffic) up to 25% (Fourth Regional Plan/Federal Highway Administration)
    3. Encourage group travel. Vehicles that carry large numbers of passengers should be given preferential treatments on highways, and the most effective means of doing so is to incorporate High Occupancy Vehicle (H.O.V.) lanes along critical areas of I-75 congestion.

The “intended benefit” of the SunCoast toll road (as stated in the SB 7068) is “congestion mitigation”. Capacity expansions and extensions to public transit are not appropriate policies with which to combat traffic. SB 7068 is an uninspired, uncreative, and unwanted response to the growing Florida population.

Listen to the people you have pledged in your mission statement to protect and represent. We believe in the strength of communities. We believe in preserving vibrant ecosystems. We want to have a relationship with Florida’s natural world, and we want to guarantee our children’s rights to the same. The universal pressure of my generation is that we have so much to say, yet so little time. Three minutes is only enough to throw a handful of statistics at y’all, but if anything I hope this sticks: A cross-state SunCoast toll road has no place in any future we envision.

 

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Anna Slayton:

Good evening council.  My name is Anna Slayton, raised in Gainesville, but I live in Waldo now, and am attending the University of Florida this fall.  As you have probably gathered, my friends and I are here to contest the planned toll road construction that passed in the latest legislative session.  I am 18 years old and I love Florida. I have hope that it will continue to be an incredible state, but when I heard about the SunCoast connector I’m sad to say my positivity wilted a bit.

After researching, it became achingly clear who these roads are designed for.  So I ask, was this plan created out of concern of the Floridian public? On the contrary, this plan is the brainchild of two billionaires and the Florida transportation industry. They were able to convince almost every legislator to support the bill. But I want to know, have they heard what your constituents have to say about these toll roads?  In my hometown, there was a flash mob protest against its construction. In St. Petersburg there was a similar protest. And here today, we stand in another protest of sorts.

You see, I don’t have a check to hand my legislator.  All I can give them is my vote and my words. But hopefully, after you’ve heard our words, you see why this road is far from in the interests of the Floridian people. And if you don’t believe us, don’t take our word for it.  I urge you to honor your mission statement, go home, and ask your constituents what they think?

On behalf of all of us, thank you for your time.

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