Glades puts off supporting planned state toll road

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MOORE HAVEN — County commissioners were asked to endorse a resolution backing the M-CORES selection of the Southwest Central Florida Corridor — where a new Florida’s Turnpike extension from Polk County to Southwest Florida is planned — but declined to on Oct. 13 and put off further consideration for two weeks.

They expressed some doubts about how they’ll respond when a corridor is finally chosen, because they want some of the accompanying commercial development, such as a turnpike service plaza, built inside Glades to stimulate the rural but growing county economy.

Commissioner John Ahern, who represents Glades on the committee working over the plans, said he’d been at their recent meeting and that he simply brought and “worked with out of Highlands County’s (resolution) and changed it to Glades County use.”

Commission Chairman Tim Stanley said he’d received a few emails opposing construction of the road, and passed around a picture of the Florida Turnpike’s “only” 6 miles that run through the northwestern corner of Okeechobee County.

“I don’t know who convinced them, but they put a service plaza in that 6 miles,” he said, noting that it contains a Dunkin Donuts, an Earl’s Sandwich, a KFC, a Nathan’s, a Subway, a pizza shop, a Wendy’s, a gas station and a gift shop.

“In my opinion, we don’t know where this road is going to go through Glades County, but I don’t see us saying we’re against it, until we find out why it is and where it is.” he said. “I mean, we need money definitely in this county, and if they’re only going to give us 6 miles in a corner of our county, I’m not going to say that I’m against it.”

Commissioner Donald Strenth said he thought the reason the Florida Department of Transportation located the turnpike plaza at Fort Drum is that they plan for them about every 35 miles on the turnpike. “That just happened to be the lucky number,” he said.

Stanley noted that FDOT will only put an exit “where there is a state highway,” but that even if, as he suspect,s the only one in Glades might be at State Roads 29 and 27, and if the county doesn’t get a service plaza — “you get an exit on 29 and they put four hotels there and a couple of gas stations, and the impact to this county is going to be amazing.” There are also SR 70 and SR 80, which is being improved, that could provide a connection to Glades.

He said it seemed to him that the state is “finally doing something in advance instead of waiting until it’s all congested until we can put a road in. That’s just my opinion.”

Vice Chairman Weston Pryor called the FDOT meetings a “dog and pony show, for one, and I think it’s a way that the legislator says, ‘This is what we’re going to do, and ... you have your opinion’ ... but they’re going to do what they want to do anyway.”

Pryor added, though, that he thought “it’s a great opportunity for Glades County.”

Commissioners continued discussing possible routes through the county, with Commissioner Donna Storter Long asking, “Would you consider modifying that we prefer a presentation with locations? I’m not comfortable with it.”

Ahern said if FDOT chose the SR 29/SR 27 corridor, that would be beneficial for Glades County; however, he said there is major concern about the Florida panther, whose prime habitat land lies in the swamps from the Everglades through Lee, Hendry, Glades and Charlotte counties, and that wildlife crossings would need to be built in.

Commissioners Pryor and Long wanted to specify that the county send a letter of support but to list what Glades County needs and wants from a new highway. She suggested each commissioner forward their reservations in writing to County Attorney Richard Pringle and let him work them into the resolution.

Pryor moved to table the matter to their October night meeting, which is scheduled at 6 p.m. Oct. 26 at the Glades County Regional Training Facility.

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