The Coastal Connector was a policy and political boondoggle. It was clear the Florida Turnpike Enterprise, which builds and operates the state’s toll roads, did not do its homework in selecting proposed paths for the road. When the FTE made public its ill-conceived plan to run the expressway through western Marion County, it created a unique alliance of between the environmental, equine, business and political communities.
Tuesday’s County Commission vote on the comp plan amendments provides no absolute protection from a future Coastal Connector, but it legal codifies the community’s position on the issue and gives the county at least an entree into future planning discussions.
The key wording added to the comp plan prohibits a toll road or an expressway that “negatively impacts vital farmlands or key environmental areas or that does not utilize existing rights of way where possible.”
Just 19 words, but county officials and their lawyers believe it can act as a backstop to future roads in the wrong places. Maybe.
Everybody got a little something with the final decision. While environmentalists and local residents sought a ban on any roads, the reality is the state can and will build wherever it wants. Vigilance by the county and its community partners in this fight is essential for the words to have substance. Our county officials cannot advocate too passionately or too loudly for the springs, rivers and wildlands of western Marion County. Same for horse country. The new wording is clear, even helpful, but as the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words.
Hopefully we’ve heard the last of any plans to build an expressway connecting Tampa and Jacksonville through our county. Which brings us to what started the whole controversy in the first place — namely, providing relief for the congestion on Interstate 75.