Governor Must Veto Toll Roads

Letters

BY SEAN SELLERS SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY MAY 4, 2019

This is a moment of truth for Governor Ron DeSantis. With limited public debate, Senate President Bill Galvano has maneuvered his pet project through the Legislature. SB7068 authorizes the construction of three massive toll roads, stretching from Naples to the Florida-Georgia line. However, as nearly 100 business and civic organizations noted this week, the plan is remarkably flawed and must be vetoed.

First, there is no transportation study to warrant the largest expansion of Florida’s highway system since the 1950s. This is highly unusual, and irresponsible, for a project that will tie up billions of public dollars in construction and ongoing maintenance.  To the contrary, a 2016 FDOT task force study recommended against new highways in favor of improving existing corridors.

Second, there is no mechanism for local input into the siting of highways or interchanges; amendments to address this problem were voted down. Developers and road-builders will benefit from the incursion of sprawl deeper into Florida. If past is prelude, cookie-cutter exurbs will displace rural residents as property values climb, farms and ranches sell out and jobs are lost. 

Third, the irreversible loss of natural areas may likely push our environment—and economic lifeblood—past the tipping point. The flawed wetlands mitigation banking system is unable to meet current demand. Furthermore, as reporters Craig Pittman and Mathew Waite have shown, even when mitigation occurs, artificial or restored wetlands provide a mere fraction of the critical ecosystem services—including flood protection, aquifer recharge, and pollutant filtration—as the natural wetlands that were destroyed. SB7068 will worsen water quality even as the state spends heavily to clean up its polluted springs, rivers, and coastlines in rearguard action. Though preservation is less costly and more effective than restoration, the Legislature has chosen to fund Florida Forever land acquisition at only 10 percent of its historic levels, while zeroing out conservation easement funding for working farms and ranches entirely.

Lastly, these new roads will not improve our safety from hurricanes, as Sen. Galvano claims. The deadly evacuation of Houston for Hurricane Rita in 2006 made this crystal clear. Instead, the state should invest in safe and accessible hurricane shelters in every local community and particularly in booming southwest Florida where need outstrips supply.

We know better and therefore we must do better, both for ourselves and future generations.

Sean Sellers is chair for the Suncoast Climate Justice Coalition.

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