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What is the proposed Stop New Toll Roads Ballot Amendment?

John Moran 1.jpeg
Courtesy FL5.org / John Moran
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The Florida Toll Road Expansion Ban Amendment also known as Stop New Toll Roads, will prohibit the construction or expansion of toll roads on conservation and rural lands.

Conservationists have a five-amendment rights of nature ballot drive going on right now. This is the first in a series looking at each of the rights of nature amendments. Today's story is about the Stop New Toll Roads amendment.

The Florida Toll Road Expansion Ban Amendment also known as Stop New Toll Roads, will prohibit the construction or expansion of toll roads on conservation and rural lands. Toll roads, the ballot language says, "decrease the quality of life for all Floridians."

According to Chuck O'Neal, the chairman of the Florida Rights of Nature Network, toll roads divide wildlife corridors, destroy natural ecosystems, and, he explains, often place a burden on under resourced families.

"Developers are buying land such as cow pastures, out in the middle of nowhere. And then they're using their political influence on expressway authorities to build these toll roads to their property so that they can create a new town or city or town lead or city type development. … we have more toll roads than any other state in the country, because of this developer, manipulating toll road agency methodology to build these cheap toll roads for them. But the burden, where's the burden go? the burden goes back onto the working people," says Chuck O’Neal, , who is also the chairman of the FL5.org Political Committee. He says the ballot amendment is a response to what he calls an ongoing problem around the state.

The proposed ballot amendment language says, "expansion of toll road construction in the state of Florida destroys natural systems. Toll roads block wildlife corridors and pose a threat to local economies and the health of wetlands. Storm water runoff pollution from toll roads deposits heavy metals, oils, and greases from roads into wetlands that are toxic to native species."

Tish O’Dell, community organizer with CELDF, the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, worries the proposed ballot amendment is not really about the rights of nature--and that all roads, not just toll roads, cause the problems the ballot amendment is meant to address.

"Stormwater runoff pollution from toll roads… deposits, heavy metals, oils and greases from roads into wetlands are toxic to native species. Well, I would think that applies to roads that are non-toll road, too," O'Dell says.

Julie Wraithmell is the executive director of Audubon Florida. Audubon Florida does not endorse the this proposed ballot measure or any of the FL5, but she says it's powerful that people are stepping up and caring so much about Florida's environment to think these ballot amendments belong in Florida's constitution.

"The issue is that when you put brand new roads through areas of the state that are relatively undeveloped, they can actually stimulate sprawl… I would argue that some of the traffic and challenges that we're seeing to our water and wildlife now are a result of that. So it's time for us to do things a little bit differently. And that's why we need to be looking to be more strategic in the ways that we are planning our communities and the ways that we move between them," Wraithmell says.

Nearly 900,000 signatures will need to be collected by November 30th in order to qualify the Florida Toll Road Expansion Ban Amendment for the 2022 ballot. To read the full text of the Amendment, visit FL5.org.

Correction: This story has been updated to note Audubon Florida does not endorse this or any of the FL5.

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