Toll road task forces moving forward

Task forces set up to study and make recommendations about three major toll-road proposals will move forward with meetings this month.

The proposed roads, a major priority of Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, during the 2019 legislative session, would expand the Suncoast Parkway from the Tampa Bay area to Jefferson County; extend the Florida Turnpike west to connect with the Suncoast Parkway; and add a new multi-use corridor, including a toll road, from Polk County to Collier County.

The Northern Connector Task Force, which will study the extension of the turnpike, will meet at 10 a.m. Oct. 22 at the College of Central Florida Citrus Learning Center in Lecanto. A day later, the Suncoast Connector Task Force, which will study the extension of the Suncoast Parkway to Jefferson County, will meet at 10 a.m. at the Lecanto facility. The Southwest-Central Florida Connector Task Force, which will study the project linking Polk and Collier counties, is scheduled to meet at 10 a.m. Oct. 30 at Polk State College’s Lakeland Campus.

The task forces --- known as the “Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance,” or M-CORES, task forces --- were created in a bill that passed during the 2019 session.

Galvano has described the roads as a “new approach” in planning the state’s future, reducing congestion, providing alternative evacuation routes and offering a way to “revitalize” rural communities through the expansion of broadband, water and sewer infrastructure. But the proposals have drawn opposition from some environmental groups, which argue that extending or adding toll roads would lead to sprawling development and endanger habitats.

A final report to the governor and Legislature is supposed to be ready by Oct. 1, 2020. Construction would begin by the end of 2022, with the roads open to traffic before Dec. 31, 2030.

Lawmakers designated $45 million toward the work in the current year, with annual funding expected to grow to $140 million.

© 2019 The News Service of Florida.