You've heard about the three purposed new highways in central and western Florida that our Republican legislators want to build. Anyone with experience of the not-so-good-ole boys in Tallahassee can tell you that these roads are not so much about improving hurricane evacuation, but instead about land development. And especially about the guys who own the land for which we, the taxpayers, will spend big bucks.
This is particularly true of the route from Collier County (Naples) to Polk County (Lakeland). The Times published a front-page story quoting a biologist who decried the plan, saying that it would drive the Florida panther to extinction. Others also protested this most recent degradation of our environment, but who cares what these bleeding hearts think? Of course, the roads will be damaging to panthers, bears, wetlands, and everything else -- but preserving old Florida doesn't even enter the equations of those who would pave over everything. It certainly does not deter their Tally pawns.
So here's a practical suggestion for a solution -- not only to hurricane gridlock, but also to the ordinary gridlock that plagues I-75 every day: double-decking. We have a model here in Hillsborough with the expansion of the Leroy Selmon (or Crosstown) Expressway. Instead of buying more land and chasing more manatees and birds from MacKay Bay, we built a second story on it between downtown and Brandon about a decade ago. I take this no-exit upper level often and enjoy its fast pace and water views.
We can emulate this on I-75, and when the affluent folks who live in Naples or Venice or Sarasota need to flee a storm, they can get on the upper level and head to Georgia. There can be a few service areas along it, limiting the need to get off. Southwest folks don't want the proposed route that takes them to Polk County anyway -- much less figure how to get from there to anywhere. You would have a choice between back-tracking again to the west or going east to the traffic of Orlando and Jax.
This clearly is a nonsensical route that has land owners' interests at heart, not those of users. Beyond that, recent hurricanes have hit insular Polk more often than coastal areas. Yes, I know that Lakeland shouldn't be in the cross-hairs of hurricanes, but that has happened repeatedly. Maybe there's a heavenly plan.
Anyway, the solution is to use the land we already own and create an artistic and elevated I-75. The express lanes should go at least as far as I-10, and during storm evacuations, we can escape with one-way traffic. In ordinary times, the upper level will flow quickly, while lower level is dedicated to those dealing with local traffic, just as is the case with the Crosstown now. Folks headed out of state would be glad to be separated from us, and we from them. And yes, DOT please send me a check for this excellent consulting advice.
COMMON SENSE, PART TWO
Two stories on NPR raised more questions about common sense, especially with inexperienced people who nonetheless have influential jobs. A reporter from the New York Times went down to Miami and the Keys to interview people about rising sea levels and flooding. He began his report by explaining that not all land is of equal value. He deplored this as somehow unfair and discriminatory, but I wanted to ask him if he would expect to pay the same for an apartment in Manhattan as in rural Nebraska. Geez.
He finally accepted that real estate value is relative, but he remained surprised that many conches accept sea rise. Indeed, most people who live in the Keys understand that some islands will disappear -- probably will be sooner rather than later -- because melting icebergs cause oceans to rise. I was glad to hear from these sensible Floridians who do not resist the fact that Mother Nature, over the long term, is more powerful than engineers. Indeed, our peninsula has been going, not coming, for a very long time. Oceanographers and archeologists have lots of evidence – including human remains – to demonstrate that Florida was once twice as big as it is now. Of course the smaller islands of the keys will be underwater relatively soon in geological time.
The reporter's solution was to raise roads, and he spent much airtime on the monetary cost of this paving. That may make sense in Miami – but even then, higher roads are not enough: any workable plan will have to include canals so that the water has somewhere to go. Miami could become another Venice, but that Italian city also has greater flooding than in the past, and it's a short-term solution. In the Keys, the answer is to simply accept that land is sinking and to raise portions of the long bridge that we already have, simply skipping over some islands.
People would have to move from them, of course, or again learn to transport themselves by boat, which was what pioneer Floridians did. And they had only row boats, not today's motorboats. Raising roads would be only would work only briefly, and it again begs the question of where will the water go? If roads are elevated high enough to matter, the runoff naturally will flood homes and businesses below. I think that the "expert" here must have lived in cities all of his life and never got a chance to learn hydrology from mud puddles.
A second NPR story was on increased importation of sugar, which the reporter attributed to "bad weather." His naivety showed in that he apparently accepted a press release that said so, without bothering to ask where this bad weather was. Florida is the only place in the US that grows sugar cane, which loves hot weather – and we had the hottest year on record. I wondered if he intended to report on sugar beets, which grow in colder climates, but he said "cane," not "beets." And even so, there wasn't any particularly bad weather in those states. My family in the Upper Midwest reports excellent crops this year.
Instead, I think, the reporter just accepted the corporate statement handed to him without thought. I suspect that the real reason we may be importing more sugar is because of the Trump administration's policy on immigration. Only the hard-working people of the tropics are willing to cut cane, and a shortage of labor is the likely reason why we don't have enough sugar. Nor was anything said about tariffs on these imports, and I suspect that is because Big Sugar also is big on giving campaign cash to fellow Republicans. But it would be nice if we had reporters with enough experience of the real world to ask questions.
I heard these NPR stories while driving to the VA Hospital, where Hubby has been for what seems an eternity. I don't write this column to convey my personal troubles, but because I know that some readers care, I'll tell you that he fell on Thanksgiving weekend, fracturing his neck and detaching the retina from an eye. Yes, it has been rough for both of us.
But it gives me plenty of opportunity to observe everything from the inadequate nighttime lighting on Fletcher Avenue to the VA's continued parking problems and its lack of any food service whatever on Sundays, as well as the outrageously bad planning that led to the current mess of medicine dispensed from doublewides. Over and over again, I've asked myself who was in charge when valuable land was sold for student apartments, while veterans have to drive two dangerous blocks to get from the hospital to the pharmacy -- where they wait in line for a century or so before someone can attend to prescriptions.
Both there and elsewhere in the institutional world, many failures should be viewed through the ongoing – if unacknowledged – struggle between capital and labor. The clearest example at the VA is in the parking garage. Because of bad planning and the sale of land with greater proximity, you have to take a tram between the garage and the hospital. A dozen trams sit on the ground floor of the garage, the majority of them unused even on busy days.
And that is because the guys who run the trams are volunteers. I bless these sweet old soldiers who come in to drive the halt and the lame who can't walk that far. Yet it would be better if the VA paid the drivers so that service is available on a known schedule. Instead, if it's a weekend or after 5:00 or even if it's raining, vehicles worth probably a million dollars sit unused.
This predilection for investing in things instead of people is a commandment of capitalism that should be better recognized and rejected. Managers should stop buying toys and instead pay people.