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Florida Senate Signs Off On Bill Creating Three New Toll Highways

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – In a top priority of President Bill Galvano, the Florida Senate on Wednesday approved a bill that would help set the stage for three major toll-road projects.

Senators voted 39-1 to support the proposal (SB 7068), which would establish task forces to study the economic and environmental impacts of extending the Suncoast Parkway from the Tampa Bay area north to the Georgia border, extending the Florida Turnpike west to hook up with the Suncoast Parkway and building a new transportation corridor, including a toll road, from Polk County to Collier County.

The proposal, which must still get through the House, calls for spending $45 million next fiscal year, with the amount growing to $90 million in the 2020-2021 fiscal year, about $135 million the next year and a recurring amount of $140 million starting in the 2022-2023 fiscal year.

Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican who is carrying the bill for Galvano, called the proposal "a bold endeavor" intended to address traffic concerns for the next half century.

"This has been an interesting experience, and it may not be over," Lee said.

"We're going to send it down to the House and see." Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat who was the lone vote against the measure, pointed to the costs.

"It's a huge amount of money to redirect, and that's all we're really doing is redirecting it," Rodriguez said.

The task forces would have to complete their work by Oct. 1, 2020.

The proposal calls for construction to begin by the end of 2022 and the roads to open to traffic before Dec. 31, 2030.

Galvano has said the roads would help rural communities, address the state's continued rapid growth, provide new hurricane-evacuation options, expand bicycle and pedestrian trails and lay the groundwork for new water and sewer lines and broadband.

On Monday, the Sierra Club and 1000 Friends of Florida led a news conference announcing plans to fight the projects, which they say would lead to sprawl, harmful wildlife impacts and water pollution.

(©2019 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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