Florida Senate bill scraps Southwest-Central Florida Connector toll road

Reporter: Taylor Smith Writer: Jack Lowenstein
Published: Updated:
A graphic that shows counties in orange the proposed Southwest-Central Connector would run through. Credit: WINK News.

Panther habitat could be safe from a major project. There could be a plan to scrap a road project that would cut right through it.

A toll road promised quicker access from Collier to Polk County and was touted as an evacuation route during hurricanes.

But Florida Lawmakers now feel what was to be known as the Southwest-Central Florida Connector is unnecessary in the state.

Most are happy to hear panther territory would no longer be touched, but others hoped for a new road because of traffic on other highways.

“With that traffic, there has to be some thought giving different routes out,” Bernard Smyth said.

Smyth was looking forward to the toll roads running across three parts of the state — the one from Collier to Polk, also known as the “Heartland Parkway.”

“You can’t put all these people on top of each other and have no way to get out,” Smyth said. “Either it’s an emergency like a hurricane or whatever.”

A Florida Senate proposal to scrap the controversial toll road is speeding ahead and getting fast-tracked to Florida House lawmakers for approval.

State Sen. Gayle Harrell voiced her concerns.

“Was very concerned about not just the environmental impact of what we were doing but also the fiscal impact,” Harrell said.

The road would go through 36 cities and towns in nine counties, including panther territory and environmentally sensitive land.

“We don’t need a toll road to run through the habitat we are supposed to be saving right now,” Larry Fischer said.

The bill basically undoes one pushed through the legislature in 2019.

“SB 100 is better than the current m-cores program, which is a budget-busting boondoggle,” said Lindsay Cross, with Florida Conservation Voters. “Most notably, this bill takes the Southwest-Central corridor off the table so that panthers can breathe a little easier.”

Fischer, who has lived in Naples for 40 years, says he’s glad the new plan will be focusing on improving roads that are already there.

“The toll road is not the answer,” Fischer said. “There are already roads they can improve upon.”

The next step for the new bill will be for the Florida House to pass it, and then, the governor would need to sign off.

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