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Get the latest coverage of the 2021 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

Suncoast Parkway Extension Would Shift Closer To US 19 Under Proposal

Suncoast Parkway exit sign
A proposal by Senate President Wilton Simpson would shift the Suncoast Parkway extension closer to U.S. 19.

Senate President Wilton Simpson says it would lessen environmental and financial impacts while bringing the route closer to Tallahassee.

Senate President Wilton Simpson wants to shift plans for one of three controversial toll-road projects, months after saying funding for the projects could be cut amid a state revenue shortfall.

The Trilby Republican told reporters last week a proposed northern extension of the Suncoast Parkway could be moved close to the route of U.S. 19, near the Gulf Coast, to lessen financial and environmental impacts and to bring the toll road closer to Tallahassee as it approaches Interstate 10.

“You could do it very similarly to the way we do in South Florida with (Interstate) 95 and the turnpike,” Simpson said. “They could run parallel with each other. You've already got a footprint within that environmental concern. And you could do that, and then that would be probably the best outcome for the environment. It would certainly cut the project size and scope down to a more manageable size and scope.”

Simpson said it doesn’t make sense to have the Suncoast Parkway end in Citrus County as it comes north out of the Tampa area. Under a plan approved by the Legislature in 2019, the parkway would be extended north to Jefferson County. Simpson represents Citrus County, along with Hernando and Pasco counties, which have parts of the Suncoast Parkway.

The overall toll-road plan, a priority of former Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, also called for extending Florida’s Turnpike from Wildwood to connect with the Suncoast Parkway and creating a new road linking Polk and Collier counties.

The roads are in the Florida Department of Transportation’s $9.47 billion five-year work program. They are projected to require up to $101.7 million a year.

Because of COVID-19 impacts on state revenue, Florida transportation officials have cut or delayed 77 road projects in the work plan to make up $763 million from lost gas taxes, rental car fees, toll collections and other state and federal sources.

Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, and Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, have filed legislation (SB 1030 and HB 763) to remove the toll-road projects --- known as multi-use corridors of regional economic significance, or M-CORES --- from state law.

Meanwhile, Sen. Loranne Ausley, D-Tallahassee, and Rep. Jason Shoaf, R-Port St. Joe, have filed a proposal (SB 1590 and HB 6059) that would remove from state law a requirement that the extended Suncoast Parkway end in Jefferson County, which is east of Tallahassee.

The Jefferson County Commission in December backed a resolution opposing any portion of the corridor being built in the county, which is represented by Ausley and Shoaf.