Florida’s proposed toll roads get another round of online meetings

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The Florida Department of Transportation is holding another round of online meetings this week to discuss three proposed toll highways through rural parts of the state.

The meetings started with the Northern Turnpike Connector Task Force discussing some of the input they’ve received from the public.

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Thousands of Floridians have weighed in on the proposed toll highways. FDOT chief engineer Will Watts said about 1,800 came from original letters. More than 10,000 came in the form of form letters.

Watts said between meetings, FDOT considered public concerns about their environmental and land conversation impacts, quality of life and economic opportunity concerns and corridor placement.

“The topics came directly from the public comments,” Watt said. “We did focus on actionable items in selecting the topics and capturing the public comment sentiment.”

The highways would be part of M-CORES, or Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance. It’s a program signed into law last year that could create three toll roads through rural Florida. The Northern Turnpike Connector would run from Citrus County to the Georgia State Line, the Southwest Central Connector would go from Polk to Collier counties and the Suncoast connector would cover Citrus to Jefferson counties.

Environmental groups have opposed the building of any new roads. Task force member Charles Lee, the director of advocacy for Audubon Florida, said the lion’s share of public comments reflects that.

“A very large part of the public who are commenting believe that there is no established need for three new turn pikes, 330 miles of them, in Florida,” Lee said.

As part of the M-CORES study, task force members created a set of guiding principles, the second of which includes what is essentially guidance for a no-build option. Under that principal, emphasis would be put enhancing or increasing capacity on existing roads.

FDOT’s Watt said of the eight guiding principles, none currently outweighs another. But Marion County Commissioner Kathy Bryant said they should be.

“I do think that as you look at and vet any project, you’re gonna have priorities,” she said. “And there’s always gonna be a priority that is going to be more important than some of your other priorities.”

And if most of the public comment is asking for a no-build option, Dunnellon Vice-Mayor Valerie Hanchar said the task force needs to keep that in mind.

“The no-build is what we’ve heard from the majority of people and definitely make sure we acknowledge that,” Hanchar said.”

But Phillip Fulmer, representing the Florida Trucking Association on the task force, said as more and more people move into the state, especially in rural communities, those roads are going to be needed to divert traffic and ease congestion.

“We realize that the traffic is here and it’s gonna be here, whether we want it here or not,” he said. “You need to adapt and plan for that or 10 years down the road when these trucks are on your road, you’re will be griping about it and wish you did something. To control traffic in rural towns you’ve got to have highways to get them around those towns and not in those towns.”

The Northern Turnpike Connector Task Force is set to take public comment at 5 this afternoon with a community open house Wednesday. The Southwest Central Corridor Task Force meets Wednesday with an open house Thursday and the Suncoast Corridor meets Thursday with an open house Monday.

The public can view the meetings and participate at floridamcores.om

Another round of meetings will be held at the end of October.