Monday, May 6, 2019

Sierra Club's hand-delivered letter to Governor DeSantis asking him to veto Toll Roads to Nowhere Bill (SB 7068)

Dear Governor DeSantis:
On behalf of 230,000 members and supporters, Sierra Club Florida asks that you veto SB 7068, which would construct three toll roads through the heartland of Florida. We have carefully watched the debate and wish to bring your attention a number of areas of importance.
While supporters claim the three corridors have been “well vetted,” the reality is that the FDOT Interstate 75 Relief Task Force recommended in 2016 that rather than new roads, a better approach was expanding the vehicle capacity of the interstate and connecting highways. Why would the State create three new task forces to look at building new roads when that option was not recommended?
Some have characterized SB 7068 as a “study.” The legislation is clearly not, and, should this bill become law, the only thing that comes back to the legislature for approval are appropriations to fund the Multi—use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (MCORES). It also does not contemplate, as some have claimed, all types of transportation, including light rail and airports; the legislation specifically states the project undertaken to be tolled roads.
Funding for SB 7068 comes from redirecting, not returning, general revenues to the Transportation Trust fund. The 2009 motor vehicle fee increases went directly into general revenues to make up for shortfall due to the recession- they were never part of the Transportation Trust Fund.  This legislation permanently redirects these general revenues to the Transportation Trust fund, letting FDOT decide how to use them, and shorting other programs these needed revenues.
We have serious concerns about the ability of rural toll roads to generate adequate revenues. For example, the FDOT estimate of toll revenues for the original Suncoast Parkway (which allowed it to be built under the 12- 30 year rule) was estimated to be $150 million by 2014 and in reality came in at $22 million. The revenue estimate for 2019 is just shy of $30 million. Then, if the toll revenues for MCORES are not sufficient to support the toll roads, funding will be taken from revenues of the Florida Turnpike Enterprise, which receives tolls collected from all of Florida’s toll roads. Today the state of Florida heavily subsidizes the Suncoast Parkway with funds from other toll roads. Capacity in our congested areas needs to be addressed but potential funding, in all likelihood, will be used to support these proposed toll roads instead of addressing backlogged infrastructure needs.
Supporters claim FDOT will follow the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) guidelines. NEPA requires Federal Agencies to assess the environmental effects of their proposed actions prior to making decisions. FDOT is only required to follow NEPA when federal funding is used for construction. There is no indication in the legislation or statements of sponsors that federal dollars will be used or that NEPA will be adhered to.
The bill’s sponsors often cited hurricane evacuation as an impetus for this bill, but Florida’s own emergency management website urges people to “select an evacuation destination that is nearest to your home, preferably in the same county.” The money spent on these tollways could be better spent shoring up local shelters so that Floridians can heed the state’s advice. We know that only 42% of schools meet the requirements to be used as a shelter. Funds should be directed to provide safe sheltering opportunities throughout the state, not forcing them to evacuate on congested roads.
We are hopeful that you, who stated that you are sensitive to the cost of toll roads on average Floridians, will veto this bill.  We haven’t forgotten the words of candidate DeSantis at a campaign stop in the Everglades on September 12, 2018:  “I represent, maybe, an emergence of a Teddy Roosevelt-style Republican Party here in Florida." Teddy Roosevelt used his Presidential authority to establish 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, four national game preserves, five national parks and 18 national monuments on over 230 million acres of public land. Vetoing this bill will demonstrate that you honor your commitments and begin to walk in Roosevelt’s shoes.

Alyssa Cadwalader                                                      Frank Jackalone                      
Chapter Chair                                                              Chapter Director