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Florida officials push ahead with toll-road meetings

After months of virtual meetings because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Florida Department of Transportation announced that three “hybrid” meetings will be held this week.
SunPass may be used in many places if the Florida Department of Transportation follows through on a massive expansion of its toll roads.
SunPass may be used in many places if the Florida Department of Transportation follows through on a massive expansion of its toll roads.
Published Jul. 20, 2020

The next round of meetings on controversial toll-road projects from Collier County to Jefferson County will be held online and in person.

After months of virtual meetings because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Florida Department of Transportation announced that three “hybrid” meetings will be held this week.

Members of task forces working on each of the projects will meet online before public comment periods in which people can comment online or at designated locations. Approved during the 2019 legislative session, the projects are intended to extend the Suncoast Parkway from Citrus County to Jefferson County; extend the Florida Turnpike west to connect with the Suncoast Parkway; and add a new multi-use corridor, including a toll road, from Polk County to Collier County.

Proposed corridors for three new toll road expansions.
Proposed corridors for three new toll road expansions. [ LANGSTON TAYLOR | Tampa Bay Times ]

People who attend the meetings will be required to wear masks and maintain social distancing, the department said in the announcement. The first hybrid meeting is set for Tuesday on the Suncoast Parkway extension, with the public gathering locations at Riverside Christian School in Trenton and the Jefferson County K-12 A Somerset School in Monticello.

The turnpike extension meeting on Wednesday will be open at the Hilton Ocala and the Building Alliance Banquet Hall in Lecanto.

Related: Ron DeSantis approved $738 million for Florida’s controversial new toll roads

The Lee County Civic Center in North Fort Myers and the Jack Stroup Civic Center in Sebring will be open Thursday for the meeting on the project from Collier and Polk counties.

Supporters of the projects say they will prepare the state for future growth and aid in disaster evacuations. Critics argue the roads will cut across naturally sensitive land and devastate rural areas.

An initial timeline called for the task forces to provide final reports by October, with construction expected to begin before the end of 2022. However, because of COVID-19, the deadline for the task-force reports has been pushed back to Nov. 15.

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