|This article is outdated. (September 2014)|
The Heartland Parkway is a proposed toll road to be operated by Florida's Turnpike Enterprise. The proposed toll road would run approximately 110–150 miles (180–240 km) along a north-south alignment from Interstate 4 near the Polk-Osceola County line in central Florida to the Fort Myers–Naples area of southwest Florida, through rural portions of Polk, Hardee, Highlands, DeSoto, Glades, Lee, and possibly Collier counties. A 12-mile spur would connect the parkway with the Polk Parkway south of Winter Haven With cost estimates ranging from $3–8 billion, support for the construction of the parkway has ebbed and flowed. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush was a proponent of this parkway, but his successor, governor Charlie Crist never expressed interest in its creation.
Florida is prone to hurricanes, and many widening projects and proposed highway corridors have focused on the need to facilitate large volumes of traffic away from the coast. At the present time, only Alligator Alley and several two-lane rural roads are able to transport the millions of people living in Collier, Lee, and Charlotte counties away from the coast.
Currently, the only viable north-south trucking route away from the coast is U.S. Highway 27. In Polk County, that highway is seen as the deadliest road in the county in part due to the large volume of truck traffic and high speeds. Its popularity amongst truckers stems from its intersections with several major highways and its avoidance of major cities. The Florida Department of Transportation claims that truck traffic in Florida will double by the year 2020.
The Heartland Environmental Agricultural Rural Task Force (HEART), an organization representing landowners pushing for the construction of the Heartland Parkway, has put forth some studies which they believe necessitate the construction of such a parkway.
- The total volume of freight moving to, from, and within Florida is anticipated to grow from 847 million tons to 1.5 billion tons over the next 25 years.
- The population growth of Florida is projected to increase south of Interstate 4 by six million people over the next 25 years.
- Of that, an estimated 1.5 million people are expected to move into the Heartland Corridor Region (Hendry, Glades, Highlands, DeSoto, Hardee, Northeast Collier and Polk counties).
- In the next 25 years, the number of out-of-state and international visitors to Florida is anticipated to grow from 84 million to 146 million visitors per year.
Criticism for the proposed parkway has largely stemmed from concern for the environmentally sensitive areas the parkway would run though, and concern that rural areas it would traverse would be exploited by developers. Such criticism was discussed prior to the construction of the Suncoast Parkway, where fencing and special underpasses were constructed to protect wildlife and limited exits were constructed to deter exploitation by developers.
A major proponent of the Heartland Parkway was former state legislator JD Alexander (1998-2012), from eastern Polk County. Until 2012, Alexander was CEO of Atlantic Blue Group, which owns tens of thousands of acres of property along or near the proposed alignment. In his final year in office (due to term limits) and while Alexander was chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, a total of $34.7 million was allocated for the parkway in the state's 2012 and 2014 budgets despite no request from the Florida Department of Transportation.
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- "J. Alexander". Forbes. Retrieved 13 August 2014.
- Van Sickler, Michael; Freedburg, Sydney (5 December 2007). "Bush post raises eyebrows". Saint Petersburg Times. Retrieved 13 August 2014.
- "Hazards in Gov. Scott's road plan prevent smooth ride". Orlando Sentinel. 11 August 2011. Retrieved 13 August 2014.
- Van Sickler, Michael (1 March 2012). "Road JD Alexander fought for tucked into state budget". Saint Petersburg Times. Retrieved 13 August 2014.