On October 1, 2016, the Florida Department of Transportation empaneled I‐75 Relief Task Force submitted its final recommendations to FDOT. Transportation Secretary Jim Boxold created the I-75 Relief Task Force to study ways that Florida can provide relief to I‐75, which serves as a critical corridor for people and freight.
1000 Friends provided a statewide growth management and land use perspective to the I-75 Relief Task Force. The organization participated in the panel through its Policy and Planning Director, Thomas Hawkins, who served as a member of the task force, and by submitting written comments to FDOT staff.
The task force studied a six county area between Tampa and Jacksonville. This study area comprised Alachua, Citrus, Hernando, Levy, Marion and Sumter Counties. The final report’s recommendations come in three categories: immediate actions, near-term changes to existing corridors and long-term considerations for future corridors.
The proposed immediate actions include improving safety through operational improvements, providing financial support for local governments to improve local roads near I-75 and supporting intercity bus operators.
The proposed improvements to existing corridors—which would occur over the near-term—include the recommendation that “FDOT should work with the rail industry to evaluate opportunities for linking cities such as Gainesville and Ocala to the statewide and national passenger rail network. These options could build on existing corridors such as the S-line [a central Florida rail line owned by CSX], reuse of shortline and abandoned rail right of way, and/or development of new rail corridors.”
According to Hawkins, “rail development was a focus of several stakeholders, including 1000 Friends. While new highway connections can promote sprawl, rail connections are uniquely suited to getting passengers directly to urban areas without creating pressure to develop rural and agricultural lands.”
Finally, the proposed long-term plans include evaluating opportunities for a multimodal reliever corridor for I-75. Absent from the report was a recommendation which the task force had considered to build a new tolled highway. Among the proposed routes for this new road was a path cutting through western Alachua County, eastern Levy County and western Marion County.
A new toll road through this area, north central Florida’s farm belt, would bring development pressure to convert natural and agricultural lands to urban and suburban land uses. Hawkins also says “the environmental analysis prepared by FDOT staff showed that possible corridors for the new road would cross the Withlacoochee River and require development near to the Rainbow River and Rainbow Springs. Planners for Florida’s future transportation infrastructure should take note that the task force recognized these potential harms and declined to recommend a new tollway.”
A complete copy of the task force’s final recommendations, which it transmitted to FDOT October 1, 2016, are available at http://i75relief.com.
Contact 1000 Friends of Florida Policy and Planning Director Thomas Hawkins at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to discuss this or other transportation planning issues.