This was a busy week for the No Roads to Ruin coalition with two task force meetings and two community open houses. I attended both the Suncoast and Northern Turnpike Connector task forces meetings held in Perry and Ocala, respectfully. I am concerned not only by the destruction that these roads will bring, but the lack of answers that the task force members need to make strong and informed recommendations. With every meeting, my concern has only grown. As has public opposition to the roads. Rural community members including business owners, farmers, and springs advocates, voiced their concerns and the need for a No Build option.
This evening, I will represent the No Roads to Ruin coalition at the Northern Turnpike community open house in Wildwood where I will share information with community members. A Suncoast Connector open house is also being held this evening in Mayo. A long-time Marion County resident noted to me yesterday in Ocala that the news media has done a poor job of informing local communities, which is why FCV and partners will continue to proactively inform our members about these opportunities to speak up.
Task force members repeatedly touted the value of public comments, especially since DOT has not shared with them, in a meaningful way, the myriad comments provided through written or electronic format. This is why your attendance at task force meetings is so vital and the No Roads to Ruin Coalition (of which FCV is a steering committee member) is a resource to help you share your concerns.
On a rainy Tuesday evening in Perry, I shared the below comments (3:13:25) with the Suncoast Connector task force, DOT staff, and dozens of concerned citizens.
Good afternoon. I’m Lindsay Cross with Florida Conservation Voters. I live in Pinellas County but we represent voters from around the state of Florida.
During the discussions today we heard a lot about the need for public comment so I appreciate this opportunity.
What I also heard was a lot of dollar signs. And those weren’t the dollar signs of these blue-sky ideas or this panacea that is going to completely revitalize these rural communities. What I heard echoed over and over again is how much this is going to cost us taxpayers, including those of us in the urban areas that will be subsidizing a lot of this work.
We are five months into this process and we still don’t have viable economic study to show that these toll roads are even a good idea and that they will bring a net economic benefit to these counties within the study area.
From our discussions today, I’m even more skeptical.
Mr. Watts with the Florida Department of Transportation mentioned this morning the potential for local residents to be exempt from paying these tolls which would mean that our urban areas would be further subsidizing these.
And then Mr. Hendry on our panel suggested that maybe some of this toll revenue should go back to the local communities to essentially mitigate for what he and others believe could be a negative impact to these small towns, which we’ve heard.
You’re wise to be concerned, small towns, as we’ve heard from Monticello. Because Mr. Armstrong, representing the trucking industry, noted that a guiding principle could be to get vehicles through these areas as expeditiously as possible.
We heard that there is a tenuous nature in providing new services like sewer and broadband. Mr. Stanner with the Dept of Economic Opportunity mentioned that development must be compact to be viable. That was followed by Mr. Bailey, representing TV and internet, who went as far as saying that SPRAWL is a prerequisite to broadband. But yet Commissioner Dozier shared that providing broadband and sewer is even difficult even in more populous counties like Leon.
So I want us to be particularly sensitive to what this means. This means that we are subsidizing these roads, this asphalt, that may not and likely will not be bringing this economic development and these opportunities that we look for. There needs to be other ways to provide for our rural communities, rather than building a road that will have destruction.
I’ll close by saying that, Mr. Armstrong, I respectfully disagree with you that Florida is not a laboratory. We’ve had some experiments in South Florida with the Everglades and we know that those have been pretty disastrous.
Instead, I would echo what Commissioner Gray from Gilchrist County started by saying that there are many environmental concerns and we’d be advised not to make a RASH decision. Which is why the only responsible decision is “NO BUILD.”