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  1. Opinion

Now is the time to invest in Florida roads | Column

This is arguably the most important roadway effort undertaken in Florida since the Florida Turnpike.
A small line of cars forms in the only available toll lane on the Suncoast Parkway. Times (2016)
A small line of cars forms in the only available toll lane on the Suncoast Parkway. Times (2016)
Published Aug. 15, 2019

In this divisive political environment, improving infrastructure is one of the only government actions people can often agree on. That’s why the Florida Legislature passed, and Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law, a bipartisan supported measure that will improve Florida’s transportation infrastructure.

Despite Florida’s current 21.6 million population, and growing by 900 people every day, this week a newspaper headline questioned the need for improved infrastructure, overlooking facts, and opting for sensationalized clickbait.

But the truth is, the facts support smarter infrastructure.

Mark Wilson is president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce. [COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO]

Florida is growing fast. Florida Chamber Foundation research shows we can expect another 4.5 million new residents by 2030, and 3 million more drivers on Florida’s roadways by the same time period. On top of that, 50 million more annual visitors.

In fact, the Florida Chamber’s Infrastructure Coalition can demonstrate the expected population growth between now and 2030, for each of Florida’s 67 counties. The numbers support these new roads. These economic projections were developed from sound data, and available for free, 24 hours a day, seven days a week on TheFloridaScorecard.org.

While Florida’s economy is stronger, our public budgets are healthier, and Florida is home to fresh perspectives that will continue to make us more competitive, there are challenges that come with 900 net new people moving here each day. Mainly, maintaining the safety and efficiency of our transportation system.

I understand there are some who will always oppose smart growth and economic opportunities, believing that a thriving economy cannot co-exist with responsible environmentalism or that our roadways are already adequate for the future. These are the same. And some will call these “roads to nowhere,” even though I highly doubt that cities like Lakeland, Ocala, Naples and others would consider themselves “nowhere.”

The U.S. Census Bureau says that Lee and Collier counties in Southwest Florida grew by 21.9 percent and 17.7 percent respectively in the last eight years. In Central Florida, Sumter, Osceola, Orange and Lake grew by 37.5 percent, 36.8 percent, 20.4 percent and 20 percent respectively over the same time period.

What these numbers tell us is that Florida’s urban areas are expanding, and our connections between them should be as strong as possible. Moving goods, residents and visitors is a paramount concern for Florida’s economy and that concern is felt by Republicans, Democrats and independents alike.

This is arguably the most important roadway effort undertaken in Florida since the Florida Turnpike. And now, the planning begins. Public and private stakeholders – including state agencies like the Department of Transportation, water management districts, regional planning councils, environmental groups, local government officials and non-profit organizations that are rooted in local communities across Florida – will join together to research three corridors that will help connect important Florida regions, empower rural communities and relieve congestion while also protecting our important natural environment.

This planning will also take into consideration new technologies like connected and autonomous vehicles, which are already on some Florida roadways. All of these things will happen alongside important environmental analyses and many, many stakeholder group meetings.

The Florida Chamber’s Infrastructure Coalition is focused on creating long-term investments in Florida’s energy, water, transportation, telecommunications, and other infrastructure. We’re pleased to have a seat at the table, joining more than 120 stakeholders, including 1000 Friends of Florida, Audubon Florida, the Nature Conservancy, Florida Wildlife Corridor and other environmental organizations.

Yes, sometimes facts get in the way of agendas. But in this case, the facts cannot be denied – 26 million people will call Florida home by 2030.

We all have a stake in Florida’s future. Securing Florida’s future is more important now than ever.

Mark Wilson is the president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce and can be reached at mwilson@flchamber.com.

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