Bill Galvano

Extending a toll road from the Tampa Bay area to Georgia, an idea pushed last year as a potential hurricane evacuation route, is a priority of Senate President Bill Galvano, who says it would aid rural communities.

The Bradenton Republican told reporters Wednesday that he’s directed Senate Infrastructure and Security Chairman Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, to focus on potential costs and establish a timeline for extending the Suncoast Parkway.

Galvano also directed Lee to review new multi-use corridors that could link Polk County to Collier County and extend the Florida Turnpike northwest from Interstate 75 in Wildwood to the Suncoast Parkway. The 2019 legislative session starts March 5.

“We need to have this infrastructure, but we also need to have access to our rural communities and provide multi-purpose rights-of-ways so that prosperity can return there,” Galvano said during an appearance at an annual Associated Press pre-session gathering.

Galvano didn’t put a price tag on the proposals but said he would support issuing bonds to pay for the roads. That would increase available money for projects while creating long-term debt.

“What I’m referring to is not just revisiting a former bill, but to have a comprehensive plan to address all three of these corridors and do it on a set time schedule,” Galvano said.

The extension of the Suncoast Parkway was among a number of proposals put forward after millions of Floridians evacuated their homes in advance of Hurricane Irma in September 2017, creating massive traffic tie-ups on the turnpike and Interstate 75.

Last year, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, then the governor, vetoed $1.5 million from the budget for the state Department of Transportation to study a northern extension of the Suncoast Parkway, which currently goes from the Tampa area to U.S. 98 in Hernando County.

The House, under a select committee chaired by current Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez, had initially pitched $10 million for the Suncoast Parkway study. Nunez, R-Miami, was a House leader until getting elected in November with Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The toll road has drawn scorn for its limited use, but Galvano considers planning for the corridors as a forward vision to “anticipate tomorrow’s demands.”

In a news release after the meeting, Galvano said he’s “confident these new infrastructure corridors will help achieve Florida’s goal of strategically planning for future population growth, while at the same time revitalizing rural communities and enhancing public safety.”

Galvano during his appearance at the Associated Press event also said there are always people who oppose such road expansions.

Jim Turner is a Capitol reporter for the News Service of Florida, providing coverage on issues ranging from transportation and the environment to Legislative and Cabinet politics, which are some of the areas he worked in 20 years with TCPalm in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast. Jim grew up in Millburn, New Jersey, where he started his journalism career providing weekly reports on the high school soccer team --- of which he was a member--- to the local Millburn Item. Jim received degrees in journalism and history from High Point University in North Carolina.