By Kartik Krishnaiyer
In 2001 the Florida Department of Transportation announced their intention to expand Interstate 10 through Tallahassee. At the same time stretches of Interstate highways through the Fort Myers/Naples area, Brevard County and Polk County that were burdened with incredible traffic loads due to rapid population increases were told to wait until later.
Interstate 10 in Florida does not carry a large amount of “interstate traffic.” That is why the federal government in the 1990s provided money for expansion of I-75 as a connecting traffic route between the Florida/Georgia line and Wildwood as well as for I-95 between Jacksonville and the I-4 junction near Daytona Beach.
I-10 is a route that traverses through sparsely populated areas between Okaloosa County and Jacksonville. Leon County is in fact the only county that exceeds 100,000 residents in the 300 miles between Crestview and Jacksonville. This is in direct contrast to I-95 whose entire path South of Jacksonville is through counties that exceed 100,000 residents with the exception of geographically compact Flagler County.
Yet, the 1-95 expansion through Brevard County, which has almost twice the residents of Leon County was delayed for several years. Additionally, I-95 is used as a route to travel from point to point within Brevard County more than I-10 is within Leon County which is centered around one urban area.
Today the I-95 is finally being expanded from Palm Bay northward to the junction with the Beachline Expressway/SR 528. Congressman Connie Mack had to fight vigorously for federal funding to expand an incredibly congested stretch of I-75 from Naples to just South of Fort Myers. Construction began on this stretch of road last year a full three years after the I-10 project began construction. Yet the area covered by the highway expansion has more than twice as many residents and perhaps ten times as many annual tourists as the area of the I-10 expansion.
Work on I-4 in Polk County still needs to be done: this stretch of highway from Lakeland to Haines City has been badly congested since the mid 1980s. At some point Central Florida’s major expressway is going to have to be a seamless travel route from Tampa to Daytona Beach connecting a rapidly emerging mega metropolitan area. Punting on this while state money was spent on a relatively minor problem was foolish.
Yet the state spent $152.5 million to expand a road just outside the state capitol that did not need expansion. The decision to expand I-10 when FDOT bagan the project delayed other critical items proposed by Governor Bush in the Mobility 2000 plan further into the future. Can this expense be justified in a time of budget crisis and other real traffic needs for Florida?