The Florida House Transportation Committee has unanimously
approved a bill to create an expressway authority with the power to add toll
lanes to Interstate 75 in the southwestern part of the state.
The bill would allow local county commissioners to set up a
Southwest Florida Expressway Authority that would have the ability to float
bonds to pay for adding toll lanes to expansion plans already under way for
I-75 in Collier and Lee counties.
In 2008, the Florida Department of Transportation plans to
begin widening 26 miles of the interstate from Golden Gate Parkway in Collier
County to Daniels Parkway in Lee County. Widening the stretch from four to six
lanes is expected to take more than two years and cost $200 million.
By then, the interstate will be experiencing the traffic
load of a normal eight-lane highway, said Rep. Mike Davis, R-Naples.
The Florida Department of Transportation isn’t planning to
boost I-75 to 10 lanes until 2030. But the expressway authority could shave
years off that date through tolled express lanes.
Both the state and federal governments would still have to
approve the construction of toll lanes on the interstate, and the project could
cost in excess of $770 million.
The proposal gives county commissioners in the two counties,
which lie along the state’s Gulf Coast north of the Everglades, final say on
any changes to the expressway authority’s power. The bill also allows Charlotte
County to join the authority in the future.
HB401 passed out of the House Transportation Committee Feb.
22 and has two more committee stops in the House. Davis, the bill’s sponsor,
said he’s hoping to have the bill up at its next committee hearing during the
first week of the legislative session that begins March 8.