TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Roughly 60 people signed up to speak during a public hearing at the conclusion of Tuesday’s toll road task force meeting at the Tampa Convention Center.
Three task forces made up of state and local leaders, plus environmental and special interest groups, are tasked with exploring how to build three new toll roads in Florida. Lawmakers passed a bill last session allowing for the creation of three new toll roads.
“We see 900 new people a day calling Florida home so that growth needs to be properly managed,” said Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Kevin Thibault. “We’re trying, in this case, to be a little more proactive.”
If built, the new toll roads would extend the Suncoast Parkway nearly to the Georgia border, extend Florida’s Turnpike to the Suncoast, and create a brand new toll road from Polk County to Collier County. In all, more than 300 miles of new toll roads would be added.
“We’re open to all modes and how we’re moving people and goods,” Thibault said.
Tuesday’s task force meeting is the first of several between now and October 2020, when the task forces’ recommendations are due to the legislature. Ultimately, FDOT will get the final say.
Those in favor of the toll road expansion and creation say it will drive Florida’s infrastructure into the future, supporting growth and creating jobs, especially in more rural parts of the state.
Those against fear it will destroy wildlife and create more pollution.
“It’s the destruction of the environment for the benefit of extractive resource industries, like the oil industry,” said James Lamont, a protester outside Tuesday’s meeting. “Instead of a real conversation with real facts, we have this faux democratic process where people get together to decide what kind of destruction it is we want to have.”