Florida Senate could take aim at toll road plan

Two years after Florida lawmakers approved a controversial toll-road plan, a Senate committee is slated next week to consider a bill that could undo major parts of it.

The bill (SB 100), filed Thursday, would repeal a 2019 law that calls for extending the Suncoast Parkway and Florida’s Turnpike and building a new toll road that would link Polk and Collier counties.

But the bill includes two projects that would be at least somewhat similar to the toll-road extensions in the 2019 law.

The law calls for extending the turnpike from where it ends now in Wildwood to connect with the Suncoast Parkway. The bill, sponsored by Senate Transportation Chairwoman Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, would continue to seek an extension of the turnpike, saying such a project is "in the strategic interest of the state."

The bill, however, would not specify that the turnpike connects with the Suncoast Parkway but would direct the Department of Transportation to "commence the project development and environmental phase of the extension and…consider project configuration, alignment, cost, and schedule." The department would be required to submit a report by Dec. 31, 2022, to Gov. Ron DeSantis and legislative leaders.

The 2019 law also calls for extending the Suncoast Parkway from Citrus County to Jefferson County, where traffic could link up to Interstate 10 east of Tallahassee. 

RELATED: Florida toll road recommendations draw mixed reactions

Harrell’s bill would connect the Suncoast Parkway and I-10 in North Florida by making changes to U.S. 19. The bill says such a project would be "developed using existing roadway, or portions thereof, to ensure the free flow of traffic." It indicates that could involve making changes to "manage congestion points" and provide alternatives to intersections with traffic signals.

Also, the bill would route the project to Madison County, rather than Jefferson County, and would require it to be completed by Dec. 31, 2035.

The bill, which will go before the Senate Transportation Committee on Wednesday, comes after Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, floated the idea last week of tying a Suncoast Parkway extension with U.S. 19. Simpson said that could reduce financial and environmental impacts.

"You could do it very similarly to the way we do in South Florida with (Interstate) 95 and the turnpike," Simpson told reporters. "They could run parallel with each other. You've already got a footprint within that environmental concern. And you could do that, and then that would be probably the best outcome for the environment. It would certainly cut the project size and scope down to a more manageable size and scope."

The toll-road plan was a priority of former Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. While the new bill includes proposals related to the turnpike and Suncoast Parkway extensions, it does not offer a specific proposal similar to the planned toll road between Collier and Polk counties.

To carry out the 2019 law, the planned road projects are in the Florida Department of Transportation’s $9.47 billion five-year work program. They are projected to require up to $101.7 million a year.

While business groups have backed moving forward with the projects, many environmental groups have fought the plan.