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Florida lawmakers pass bill to create 3 new toll highways

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Florida lawmakers pass bill to create 3 new toll highways

TALLAHASSEE, Fla.— Florida is on the fast track to building three new major toll highways in mostly rural areas under a bill sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis by the state House on Wednesday despite concerns over their potential negative impact on the environment.

The bill, passed on a 76-36 vote, creates task forces to study the potential routes and commits tens of millions of dollars for eventual construction of the highways. Supporters say the roads will spur rural job growth, relieve congestion on Interstate 75 and Interstate 4 — the main tourist road to Walt Disney World and other Orlando theme parks — and create new hurricane evacuation routes.

Republican Rep. Jay Trumbull of Panama City, the chief House sponsor, invoked the interstate highway system’s creation by President Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s and the building of Florida’s Turnpike as examples of essential and economically successful projects.

“Could you imagine today if you were driving through Florida without the turnpike system?” Trumbull said. “We have the ability today to push our state forward.”

One highway would connect Collier County in the southwest to Lakeland, located between Tampa and Orlando. Another would extend the Suncoast Parkway from Citrus County to Jefferson County at the Georgia border. The third would extend from the north end of the Florida Turnpike to the Suncoast Parkway.

All would be toll roads. Construction would begin before Dec. 31, 2022, with a goal of opening all three highways to traffic by Dec. 31, 2030. The task forces would select the exact routes.

Opponents said a financial commitment to the roads should await studies on whether they will harm wetlands and wildlife and spur urban sprawl. They also said the bill amounts to a handout to the highway construction industry.

“The bill before us today is the most massive expansion of our highway system since the 1950s. Let’s not green-light a project without having the proper facts,” said Rep. Bobby DuBose, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat. “We are basically handing over a blank check.”

The legislation, however, was a top priority of Senate President Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, and was destined to pass from the beginning of the 60-day legislative session. Galvano said the bill requires the task forces to evaluate wildlife crossing design features that would protect endangered Florida panthers and other habitat, as well as measures that would safeguard water quality and agricultural land use.

“These new infrastructure corridors will help Florida strategically plan for future population growth, revitalize rural communities, and enhance public safety, while at the same time protecting Florida’s unique natural resources and habitats,” Galvano said in a statement.

That did not sit well with groups who say the money could be better spent on greater needs.

“This is why Floridians are so cynical about government,” said Jonathan Webber, deputy director of Florida Conservation Voters. “Just imagine the amount of good we could do if this money was spent on cleaning our water, building more parks, or finding solutions to the growing climate crisis.”

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The Nation

Moving America forward: Sammy Brewster is dedicated to safety

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Sammy Brewster
Sammy Brewster, Georgia (Courtesy: Trucking Moves America Forward)

To celebrate the modern-day achievements of African Americans in the trucking industry, Trucking Moves America Forward (TMAF) has selected four drivers who exemplify excellence in trucking. They were selected because of their professionalism and dedication to their jobs, commitment to safety and continuous efforts to move America forward every day.

The drivers are being featured on TMAF’s blog and social media pages throughout the month of February as well as on The Trucker.com. The stories highlight the drivers’ accomplishments and safety records and share the personal story of each driver. This is the fourth of four features in the series.

Moving America forward: Sammy Brewster is dedicated to safety

Sammy Brewster, a professional truck driver for ABF Freight for the past 12 years, has been a truck driver for 29 years. He resides in Powder Springs, Georgia.

Brewster, is a second-generation truck driver. During an interview with TMAF, Sammy said, “I got my start at an early age by driving for my father. He also ran a small family logging business.”

When asked what Brewster loves most about trucking, he told TMAF that he loves the free feeling of being out on the open road and the opportunity to travel and see different parts of the country. Most importantly, Brewster said, it has been a great support system to raise his family.

Brewster’s son, who just got his trucking license last year, is continuing in his father and grandfather’s footsteps as a third-generation truck driver.

Prior to joining the trucking industry, Brewster served in the U.S. Army. Brewster said that dedication to safety is one of the lessons instilled in him during his service. He carries that lesson into his job as a truck driver.

Prioritizing and promoting safety are essential for Brewster while on and off the road. Because of his strong safety record, Brewster has received many safe driving awards, including the 11-year safe driving certificate and the 10-year Safety Performance Award from ABF Freight.

Brewster was appointed as a member of ATA’s 2019–2020 America’s Road Team. He also serves as member of ATA’s Share the Road highway safety program, helping to educate motorists about road safety during heavy traffic weekends, such as Memorial Day.

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Backlogs expected as weekly closure of eastbound Tuscarora Tunnel begins Sunday

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Backlogs expected as weekly closure of eastbound tuscarora tunnel begins sunday
All drivers on the Pennsylvania Turnpike are advised to expect delays while the eastbound Tuscarora Tunnel is closed for improvements and modernization. The tunnel will be closed every Sunday night and reopen at noon Friday each week through late June.

HARRISBURG, Pa. – The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission advises motorists traveling in both directions on Interstate 76 to be prepared for an ongoing closure of the eastbound tube of the Tuscarora Tunnel starting at 9 p.m. Sun., Feb. 23, and ending at noon Friday, Feb. 28.

The weekly tunnel closure, which will impact traffic in both directions in Franklin County, will continue until June 26; some schedule modifications may occur due to weather conditions or during holiday periods.

Eastbound traffic will be directed into one lane and then cross over to continue through one lane of the westbound tunnel. Motorists in both directions should be alert for a continuous single-lane traffic pattern approaching the tunnel and bidirectional traffic within the tunnel.

Additionally, no overwidth commercial vehicles will be allowed in the tunnel during bidirectional traffic patterns.

Motorists should be prepared for slow moving or stopped traffic approaching the Tuscarora Tunnel in both directions. Backlogs are expected daily in both directions beginning around mid-day and lasting into the evening hours. The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has installed a smart work zone as part of this project which monitors current traffic conditions and displays travel times and slow or stopped traffic messages on Portable Changeable Message signs placed in advance of the tunnel in both directions.

Impacted motorists should visit www.511pa.com/tuscarora to view travel alerts and current travel times for the project and to find suggested detour routes.

Drivers are advised to turn on headlights, slow to the posted work-zone speed limit of 40 mph and keep an adequate distance from the vehicle ahead. Never pass inside the tunnel. Drivers who experience car trouble and cannot safely exit the tunnel should stay in the vehicle, put on the hazard lights, dial *11 from a mobile phone and wait for assistance. Tunnel personnel will monitor closed-circuit cameras and send help for disabled vehicles.

The Tuscarora Tunnel is located on I-76 between mileposts 186 and 187, between the Fort Littleton Interchange (Exit 180) and the Willow Hill Interchange (Exit 189) at the Huntingdon and Franklin county lines.

The tunnel crossovers are necessary as part of a four-year $110 million project to improve and modernize the Tuscarora Tunnel. The major tasks to be completed include the removal of ceiling slabs, a new ventilation system, new membrane waterproofing and the replacement of walkways, concrete barriers and the drainage system in the tunnels. Some enhancements have already been completed in the westbound tunnel, such as additional lighting, in-pavement lights and overhead lane-control signs.

The Tuscarora Tunnel eastbound tube opened in 1940 and the westbound tube opened in 1968. The two tunnels were last renovated in the 1980s. For more information about the Tuscarora Tunnel Rehabilitation Project visit www.PATurnpiketunnels.com.

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The Nation

Connecticut governor drops proposal for highway tolls for trucks

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HARTFORD, Conn.  — Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont announced on Wednesday, Feb. 19, that he is dropping his plan for highway tolls for trucks, expressing frustration with legislative leaders who have delayed a vote on the issue.

The Democratic-controlled General Assembly had planned to vote Thursday on the tolls, which were under consideration to fund a wide-ranging transportation improvement plan. But Lamont, also a Democrat, said the Senate informed him that it needed more time, once again.

“I’ve got a Legislature that doesn’t want to make a choice,” Lamont said at a news conference. “I think it’s time to take a pause.”

Tolls on trucks had been projected to raise an estimate $200 million annually. Lamont said he plans for now to generate that money instead through state borrowing to help finance his roughly $19 billion 2030 transportation improvement plan.

“I hate to do it this way. It’s bonding in place of other things that are priorities,” he said. “But right now, there’s no other option on the table.”

As Lamont was talking to reporters, the Senate Democrats issued a statement saying the caucus was “still confident” it will have the necessary number of votes to pass a transportation plan with 12 toll gantries on 18-wheeler trucks only. In a joint statement, Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, D-New Haven, and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said they had only asked for five more days because the senators needed that time to prepare for an anticipated two-day, 30-hour debate over tolls.

“We are prepared to hold a session next week to vote on a bill to make the necessary transportation improvements for Connecticut’s economic development, residents and businesses,” they said.

Minority Republican leaders were doubtful the issue of tolls, which has hounded Lamont and his administration since the former businessman first took office in January 2019, will be resurrected for a vote during this legislative session, which ends in May. But they didn’t rule out the issue returning next year.

“Nothing’s dead in this building,” said Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, of North Haven. “Back up again this session? I might be a little bit surprised. Back up again in 2021, I think you could probably bank on it.”

Some House Democrats expressed disappointment about Lamont’s announcement he’s not going to push ahead with tolls.

“This is crazy — let’s vote on the plan,” tweeted Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport. “Continuing to kick the can down the road and borrowing even more money 100% on the backs of CT taxpayers is what got us in this mess to start with.”

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