Thursday, October 27, 2011

George Mindling Column 03-11-2005 - Southwest Turnpike

A Southwest Turnpike Could Calm I-75

Our winter season will begin to wind down early this year as Easter falls on March 27th, a little earlier in the year than usual. Easter marks the beginning of the annual northward migration as snowbirds begin their annual trek back home, regardless of the late snows and chilly weather hanging on “up north”. Our local roads and highways will soon be a little emptier, and traffic will flow a little smoother than during snowbird season.

However, I-75 will be a different matter. Anyone who travels the interstate regularly can tell when the migration is on. Many of our seasonal residents travel with campers or mobile homes, often towing cars or SUVs behind like faithful puppies.

A transportation Town Hall meeting held at Florida Gulf Coast University Fort Myers on February 19th, addressed concerns and schedules for widening I-75 through southwest Florida. Led by Congressman Connie Mack, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the meeting outlined the need for widening I-75. Obviously, something must be done.

I would like to propose an alternate route. I realize that I-75 must be widened. There are no alternatives to that fact. There are, however, alternatives to the nightmare of being stuck on I-75, no matter how wide it is. Two serious accidents last year closed down the Interstate completely, showing the vulnerability of having only one evacuation route.

The Florida Turnpike, a toll road, leaves the Orlando area and heads toward Ft. Pierce on the east coast. I would like to see the Florida Turnpike split at that point south of Orlando, and a new turnpike built to service Southwest Florida. It would connect the center of the state with either Ft Myers or the Naples area.

First and foremost, it would offer an alternative evacuation route to the central Florida area without clogging up the Sarasota/Tampa area, especially the I-4 interchange.  Much of the land or property needed is currently either unused, or underused, and would be economically feasible to acquire in the short term.

It would relieve I-75 of most of the traffic headed or returning from the Orlando/Central Florida recreation areas, almost all of which is personal vehicular traffic. The Orlando area directly supports or implements vacationing in Southwest Florida. Many of our visitors and tourists include at least one trip to the Disney/Orlando complex.  The Southwest Florida Turnpike would remove these vehicles from I-75 through the Sarasota/Manatee/Hillsborough County areas.

The opening of the Southwest Florida Turnpike would be the economic shot in the arm for all of central Southwest Florida that has not benefited from the easy access afforded by I-95/The Florida Turnpike on the east coast, nor the narrow economic expansion areas bounding I-75 on the west coast.

As a Toll Road, it would generate revenue to offset construction and operation costs. I would gladly pay the toll to be able to drive to Wildwood without the worry of “mile-per-hour” commercial vehicles or the plodding campers. Even if they are my neighbors.

George Mindling © 2005

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