Sunday, June 24, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: End the fantasy of elevated toll road

Florida appears poised to stop flirting with a privately financed toll road in southern Pasco County after the promoter finally acknowledged it would require public money. Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad should slam the door on this distraction so the state and community can get back to more sensible planning. A privately financed elevated toll road never made sense here, and it should not have taken this long to end this fantasy.

OHL Infrastructure, one of the private companies known as Florida 54 Express, acknowledged during a May 1 video conference that it would need public dollars to build a 33-mile highway along the State Road 54/56 corridor between U.S. 19 and Zephyrhills. The project was projected to cost as much as $2 billion.

That statement contradicted the companies' previously rosy projections that in exchange for a $1 million annual lease payment to the state it could build the highway on the public right of way and charge motorists an undetermined toll to use it. It turns out the state cannot get roads for free, and even multinational companies cannot charge drivers tolls high enough to pay for one.

One more meeting between the DOT and the road builders is planned, but Prasad should kill this untested concept, which would have been the state's first privately built and operated toll road. The genesis dates to 2007 when Pasco County began studying a potential elevated highway as a long-term answer to east-west traffic congestion, and the county refocused on the idea after consultants dismissed rail as a possible alternative.

Last summer, the private sector "hijacked the conversation,'' in the words of Pasco County Administrator Michele Baker, when a private consortium submitted an unsolicited proposal for the four-lane highway as an elevated toll road. It drew public criticism from those living near the route, dwindling support from Pasco commissioners and a high-profile rebuke from the Urban Land Institute. The institute smartly criticized the proposal as counterproductive to Pasco County's mission to develop more engaging communities.

Also fueling the skepticism was that the profit-driven plan was trying to fill a need that does not yet exist. Transportation officials have said that the state was not planning immediate changes beyond adding two lanes along SR 54 east of the parkway and studying a flyover at U.S. 41. It's difficult to build consensus for a significant highway project when motorists' reservations about a diminished quality of life from a new toll road trump their concerns about traffic jams.

This episode should be a lesson for state leaders about the limits of private investment for public roadways. Investors are more interested in finding projects to make money than in smart transportation planning, and Floridians should not be forced to pay high tolls to line their pockets.

Comments
Editorial: Handing out gift cards like candy at CareerSource

Editorial: Handing out gift cards like candy at CareerSource

Itís hard to pick the biggest outrage in the financial and ethical swamp that has swallowed Tampa Bayís two primary job placement agencies, CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay. Is it the boiler room atmosphere where CareerSource recruite...
Published: 06/21/18
Updated: 06/22/18

Family separation crisis is not over

The family-separation crisis that President Donald Trump created is not over. The executive order Trump signed Wednesday purporting to end the routine tearing of children from their undocumented parents stands on uncertain legal ground. U.S. border a...
Published: 06/21/18
Updated: 06/22/18
Editorial: State help needed to staff hotlines with veterans helping veterans

Editorial: State help needed to staff hotlines with veterans helping veterans

Veterans can help veterans deal with trauma resulting from military service in a way no one else can. Thatís the theory behind a special hotline set up in the Tampa Bay area that proponents are hoping to take statewide.The expansion would cost some $...
Published: 06/21/18
Updated: 06/22/18
Editorial: With Supreme Court ruling, Florida should collect sales tax from online retailers

Editorial: With Supreme Court ruling, Florida should collect sales tax from online retailers

It turns out the U.S. Supreme Court has a better grasp of the economic realities of the 21st century than Congress or the Florida Legislature. The court ruled Thursday that states can require online retailers to collect sales taxes even if the retail...
Published: 06/21/18
Updated: 06/22/18
Editorial: Congress should ban splitting kids, parents

Editorial: Congress should ban splitting kids, parents

The shocking scenes of immigrant children crying after being taken from their parents at the border exposed a new level of cruelty by the Trump administration, and though the president reversed course Wednesday, Congress needs to end the shameful pra...
Published: 06/21/18
Sessions kickstarts action on marijuana

Sessions kickstarts action on marijuana

Good job, Jeff Sessions! It seems the attorney generalís misguided attempts to revive the unpopular and unjust federal war on marijuana may be having the exact opposite effect ó prompting a new bipartisan effort in Congress to allow states to legaliz...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/21/18
Editorial: A court victory for protecting Floridaís environment

Editorial: A court victory for protecting Floridaís environment

A Tallahassee judge has affirmed the overwhelming intent of Florida voters by ruling that state lawmakers have failed to comply with a constitutional amendment that is supposed to provide a specific pot of money to buy and preserve endangered lands. ...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/20/18
Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Innocent children should not be used as political pawns. That is exactly what the Trump administration is doing by cruelly prying young children away from their parents as these desperate families cross the Mexican border in search of a safer, better...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/19/18

Editorial: ATF should get tougher on gun dealers who violate the law

Gun dealers who break the law by turning a blind eye to federal licensing rules are as dangerous to society as people who have no right to a possess a firearm in the first place. Yet a recent report shows that the federal agency responsible for polic...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/18/18
Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

The new grass-roots effort to put a transportation package before Hillsborough County voters in November faces a tough slog. Voters rejected a similar effort in 2010, and another in 2016 by elected officials never made it from the gate. But the lates...
Published: 06/15/18