The Florida House has overwhelmingly 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.
Sponsored by Rep. Mike Davis, R-Naples, the bill would allow
local county commissioners to set up a Southwest Florida Expressway Authority
that would have the ability to issue bonds to pay for adding up to four toll
lanes to plans already under way to add two lanes with public money 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, Davis told Fort Myers The News-Press.
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 more than $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. It also allows Charlotte County
to join the authority in the future.
HB401 has been sent to the Senate for further consideration.
A similar effort offered by Davis gained Senate approval a year ago, but failed
to come up for a vote before the full House prior to the end of the session. If
approved this time around by both chambers of the Legislature, it would go to
Gov. Jeb Bush for approval.