The FDOT’s Task Force met in LaBelle recently to discuss a toll freeway to serve nine counties, including Highlands. Highlands Commissioner Jim Brooks, a member of the Task Force, said that we need more roads. He seems to think that Highlands County needs more east-west roads. The proposed Southwest Central Connector would be a north-south toll freeway, but he is for it.
Members of the public who wanted to comment on the new freeway, the tolls it would collect, or the rural and wilderness areas it would pass through, had to wait all day. The meeting started at 9 a.m. but no member of the public was allowed to comment until about 4:30 p.m. I didn't see any question from a member of the public that was answered by DOT experts. By the time public comments began, most of the Task Force members had left. Highlands County Commissioners Jim Brooks and Ron Handley were among those who left before public comments began.
I was puzzled to hear the argument that more roads are needed for hurricane evacuation. During the comments, one woman said that the roads were a mess during evacuation for Hurricane Irma. Perhaps an analogy would be helpful. Banking is based on the assumption that everyone isn't going to withdraw their savings on the same day. The road system is based on the assumption that everyone isn't going to jump in their car and head north at the same moment. I don't believe that there is any feasible amount of money we could spend on roads that could eliminate the possibility of overcrowding when people are fleeing a hurricane.
Several Task Force members said that Florida needs more roads but I didn't hear anyone defend toll roads. The legislature should forget new toll roads and widen freeways where necessary to relieve congestion.
Dale L. Gillis