Toll roads bill deserves DeSantis’s signature
By: Mark Wilson
Ocala Star Banner, May 12, 2019
In this divisive political environment, improving infrastructure is about the only government action that people can agree on.
Fortunately, the Florida Legislature is doing what Washington, D.C., hasn’t done yet — move forward with bold plans on how to improve our transportation infrastructure. We ask Gov. Ron DeSantis to support this effort, and hope that those in our nation’s capital will follow Florida’s example. But to understand why Florida needs this legislation, it’s important to understand the problem Floridians need solved.
Florida is growing fast. According to the Florida Chamber Foundation’s research, Florida can expect another 4.5 million new residents by 2030, in addition to the hundreds of millions of visitors over the same time frame. In many respects, this is welcomed news. Our economy is stronger, our public budgets are healthier, and Florida is now home to fresh perspectives that will continue to make Florida more competitive in the decades to come. But there are challenges that come with 900 new Floridians moving here each day. One of those challenges is maintaining the safety and efficiency of our transportation system.
It would be hard for me to overstate how important infrastructure is for Florida’s economy. We move over 100 million visitors a year to our world-class springs, theme parks and city centers, and then back to other states and countries. We grow hundreds of commodity crops on millions of acres of land that then use our transportation system to go from the farm to our tables. Perhaps most importantly, we have great neighborhoods and world-class schools, from which our workforce commutes to growing city centers.
Our transportation network is the vascular system for Florida’s economy, and by most measures, is well-maintained and adequate for today. But according to that same Florida Chamber Foundation research, Florida can expect another 3 million new drivers by 2030.
Think about that for a second. That means that Florida’s roadways will have millions of more cars in about a decade. Though a decade may seem far off, in infrastructure terms, that is right around the corner. Simply put, we need to plan smart and work fast to keep up with Florida’s growth or risk becoming like California.
Thankfully, the Florida Legislature recognized this challenge and, during the recently completed session, worked on the next generation of transportation systems in Florida. Senate Bill 7068 was passed with bipartisan support, and included many recommendations from the Florida Chamber’s Infrastructure Coalition. If signed into law, several important steps will happen.
First, new transportation connections will be researched and, if appropriate, funded to ease congestion and create more efficient and safe hurricane evacuation routes. Second, connections to rural and suburban communities will be better linked to the urban economic drivers of the state, reducing commute times and increasing opportunity. Finally, our planning processes will 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. Bold steps can happen deliberately, and Senate Bill 7068 has created an open and transparent process that we should be proud of. Perhaps that’s one reason this measure passed the Florida Senate 37-1.
I understand there are some that will always oppose smart growth and opportunities, believing that a thriving economy cannot coexist with responsible environmentalism or that our roadways are already adequate for the future. There are also some that believe nothing can be bipartisan anymore. The Florida Chamber disagrees. Moving goods, residents and visitors is a paramount concern for Florida’s economy and that concern is felt by Republicans, Democrats, and Independents alike.
The Florida Chamber believes Senate Bill 7068 is a step in the right direction, and hopefully the first of many. With the right people, the right process, and the right funding, we can prepare for our new neighbors, and welcome them to the best state in the union. It will take hard work, but every endeavor worth doing does.
— Mark Wilson is president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce. He can be contacted at email@example.com.