The year-long process that lawmakers say will end in three new toll roads by 2030 began Tuesday morning in a Tampa Convention Center ballroom.
People who love toll roads and those who hate them converged for a meeting that started early and ended after 6 p.m.
The particulars, as outlined by Florida Department of Transportation officials and task force members:
What happened: This was the first meeting of the three toll-road task forces that are to provide recommendations to the governor and Legislature for three toll roads: the Suncoast Parkway extension to Georgia; the Florida Turnpike's connection with the parkway; and a toll road connecting Collier and Polk counties. The official name of the project is the Florida Multi-Use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance, or M-CORES.
The message: Unlike the I-75 Relief Task Force in 2016, which was to give direction on how best to ease freeway congestion, this process is driven by state law. The state isn’t looking for a yes or no whether to build these roads. The law states the roads will be in place by 2030. Each task force is to give suggestions of issues specific to local communities, areas to avoid and how the project can enhance areas. In other words, there is no “no-build” option, and local support is not necessary.
The schedule: This was the first of seven meetings over the next 12 months. Each task force will meet six more times, with meetings or community town halls planned for all counties in the study areas. Unlike Tuesday, the schedule doesn’t combine task-force meetings on the same day. Citrus will host the first of both the turnpike extension and Suncoast extension task forces — Oct. 22 for the turnpike group and Oct. 23 for the Suncoast extension group. Both meetings are at the College of Central Florida in Lecanto at a time to be announced.
The stats: Not surprisingly, Citrus has the largest population of the eight counties in the Suncoast Parkway extension group. The state population ranking by county: Citrus, 33rd; Levy, 46th; Taylor, 54th; Madison, 56th; Gilchrist, 57th; Dixie, 59th; Jefferson, 62nd; LaFayette, 67th.
Bet you didn’t know: Jefferson is the only county in Florida without a traffic signal, according to task force member and Jefferson Commissioner Betsy Barfield.
The turnout: Fewer than 500 for the opening session, which combined members of all three task forces in one setting. Each task force met separately and simultaneously in the afternoon; attendees had to split their time or choose one and stick with it (as the Chronicle reporter did with the Suncoast extension task force). About 50 to 100 were still around for public comment, which started at 4:45 p.m.
The Citrus connection: Citrus is represented on two of the three task forces. Three commissioners — Jeff Kinnard, Scott Carnahan and Ron Kitchen Jr. -- are on the Suncoast extension group. Carnahan and Kinnard are also on the turnpike extension task force. Each county in the study areas have at least one member on the task force. Citrus isn’t in the Polk-to-Collier study area.
What they said:
• “We need more specificity.” — FDOT Secretary Kevin Thibault, saying opponents to the toll roads shouldn’t be generic in their comments.
• “I challenge you to think beyond think beyond today, think beyond tomorrow.” — Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, to the task force members. The M-CORES legislation was his idea.
• “We are rural. We are fussy about the way we grow.” — Jefferson County Commissioner Betsy Barfield.
• ”We are very excited about this opportunity to help the rural counties.” — Madison County Coordinator Brian Kauffman.
• ”It’s caused a little unease in our county.” — Gilchrist County Commissioner Todd Gray.
• ”We all got here by driving. We know we need roads.” — Citrus County Commissioner Ron Kitchen Jr.
• ”We’re out there in the middle of nowhere, 50 miles from the closest hospital.” — Dixie County Commissioner Mark Hatch, concerned about the impacts a toll road may have on the county.
• ”We cannot afford to have a bypass around that area.” — Taylor County Commissioner Pam Feagle, discussing the potential impact to Perry.
• ”We don’t need more gray in the Sunshine State.” — Lindsay Cross, representing Florida Conservation Voters.
More info and to comment: www.floridamcores.com.