1. Opinion

Florida’s three proposed toll roads cut through precious natural land | Column

Don’t pave through paradise, a former state agency head writes.
Proposed corridors for three new toll road expansions. [LANGSTON TAYLOR | Tampa Bay Times]
Proposed corridors for three new toll road expansions. [LANGSTON TAYLOR | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Jan. 13

A trip along the west coast of Florida from the Panhandle to the Everglades is a voyage through some of the state’s finest remaining natural lands. Still predominantly rural and agricultural, springs, swamps and rivers abound, clues to the region’s most precious resource: Water.

But these lands—and the waters they shelter—are now threatened.

In 2019 the Florida Legislature passed SB 7068, which calls for the construction of three toll roads in three corridors linking North Florida with Collier County. Along with expressways, it promises to bring sprawl – convenience stores, strip malls and suburban developments -- to this unspoiled stretch of old Florida. There has been scant regard for harm to the current agriculture and eco-tourism-based economy, costs to strapped local governments to provide infrastructure and services to support new development, or damage to Florida’s vulnerable water supply.

Victoria Tschinkel, former Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation, has served on the Board of Directors of 1000 Friends of Florida for more than 20 years. [1000 Friends of Florida]

Open expanses of natural lands protect Florida’s waters so vital for human consumption, agriculture and the environment. As rains fall, waters percolate through uplands and wetlands before being further purified and stored in the limestone karst that underlies much of Florida. But when lands are developed with miles of roads and sprawling development, their ability to absorb rainwater is greatly diminished. Waters instead run across expanses of pavement, picking up pollutants along the way. The urban stormwater runoff that doesn’t wash into nearby waterways goes to vast treatment facilities, bypassing nature’s more cost effective and efficient cleansing and storing abilities.

With water quality in crisis in some parts of Florida and water shortages in others, protecting rural land from development should be a top state priority. Yet the three toll road corridors cut through some of Florida’s best remaining lands and most valuable water resources.

Their path starts in the Panhandle, where the expansive pinelands of the Red Hills replenish the Floridan aquifer, source of drinking water for millions of Floridians. To the south, where two corridors converge, lies the heart of Florida’s springs country – hundreds of pristine, crystal blue watering holes that serve as eyes into the aquifer.

Continuing the southward trek, the Green Swamp feeds the Hillsborough, Withlacoochee, Ocklawaha and Peace rivers – the source of much of Central Florida’s water supply. The state’s land planning agency notes the swamp’s designation as an Area of Critical State Concern “recognizes its valuable hydrologic function and the need to specifically regulate encroaching development that imperils these functions.” Yet a toll road corridor runs smack dab through Green Swamp.

Following the Peace River further south, the southernmost M-CORES corridor features ranch lands, citrus groves, and crop farms. Its seasonally wet grasslands and longleaf pine savannas help nourish the greater Everglades ecosystem. The Peace River provides drinking water and recreation, and its flow into Charlotte Harbor helps support commercial and recreational uses there. Fragmentation of these lands with more roads and development would further threaten Collier County, ground zero for the endangered panther.

Economic development is essential for this swath of rural Florida. But it must build on the region’s rich agricultural heritage and natural resources without destroying the waters so critical to Florida’s future.

Victoria Tschinkel, a former secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation, has served on the board of directors of 1000 Friends of Florida for more than 20 years.


  1. Here’s what readers are saying in Sunday’s letters to the editor.
  2.  [Chip Bok --]
  3. Teachers and supporters march during the Florida Education Association's "Take on Tallahassee" rally at the Old Capitol in Tallahassee. [PHIL SEARS  |  AP]
    Here’s what readers are saying in Saturday’s letters to the editor.
  4. Florida's unemployment rate hit a record low in December. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File) [LYNNE SLADKY  |  AP]
    Nearly every major job sector posted gains from a year earlier.
  5. The entrance to Moffit Cancer Center in Tampa. [Courtesy of Moffitt Cancer Center]
    The secret jobs and payments provided by China to researchers at the University of Florida and Moffitt Cancer Center are greater than initially reported. A House committee should keep investigating.
  6. The Florida Aquarium celebrates its 25th year. And it has much to show for it.
    A magnet in Tampa Bay for tourism, conservation and regional growth.
  7. Mac Stipanovich
    Whether it’s regulating the collection of voter signatures on the front end or passing new laws on the back end, they seek to silence the voices of the governed.
  8. St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway and U.S. Attorney, Middle District of Florida, Maria Chapa Lopez, announced the Department of Justice awarded a $741,556 grant to the St. Petersburg Police Department for three years to create a regional Tampa Bay Human Trafficking Task Force at the department. [SCOTT KEELER  |  TAMPA BAY TIMES]
    The Tampa Bay Human Trafficking Force is a unique opportunity to bridge the gap of local law enforcement and reduce human trafficking.
  9. A rule proposed by the U.S. Department of Transportation this week would allow airlines to crack down on personal pets that are carried aboard as so-called service animals. [MARK SCHIEFELBEIN  |  AP]
    Trained dogs are fine. Pigs and turkeys—uh, no.
  10.  [Andy Marlette -- Pensacola News Journal]