Two bills waiting for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signature are important to the future of the Central Florida economy.
The first is part of the Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (M-CORES) Program, which entails building three corridors throughout relatively rural parts of the state. One, the Southwest-Central Florida Connector, would link Polk County with Collier County on the Gulf coast.
The corridors would include “multiple modes of transportation and various infrastructure improvements, including broadband and sewer access, among others,” Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said in a press release. “These new infrastructure corridors will help Florida strategically plan for future population growth, revitalize rural communities, and enhance public safety, while at the same time protecting Florida’s unique natural resources and habitats.”
Florida Rep. Melony Bell, a Republican, supports the 150-miles road, which would end south of Fort Myers. “I’m totally in favor of SB 7068 and excited about the funding to do the study for the Heartland Parkway,” Bell said. “It will affect all three of my district counties — Polk, Hardee and DeSoto — and will bring economic growth to the area.”
The bill also creates and provides funding for a Construction Workforce Development Program, which builds on the Florida Department of Transportation’s current workforce development services, Bell said. “The program is intended to serve as a tool for addressing the existing labor shortage by training individuals in skills necessary to deliver projects in the FDOT five-year work program, including multi-use corridor projects, on time and within budget.”
According to the bill, construction on the three corridors must begin before Jan. 1, 2023, and be completed by the end of 2030, if feasible.
The second involves wording authorizing the use of autonomous vehicles, which in the bill are now referred to as automated driving systems. The bill is important to Polk County, where Florida Polytechnic University professors and students research AV technology that will be tested at SunTrax, a $42 million test track scheduled to open this year along the Polk Parkway in Auburndale. The first phase includes a 2.25-mile track to test toll technology, among other things, and two buildings; the second phase includes a 200-acre infield, which will be completed within a couple of years.
“HB 311 will allow autonomous vehicles to operate on our highways and streets legally,” Bell said. “It will benefit Florida Poly and other research institutions by bringing in high-tech companies to establish businesses in Florida. SunTrax will benefit as Florida becomes a magnet for AV-related research, development and deployment. The Sunshine State is in the fast lane embracing this new technology!”
Dr. Rahul Razdan, senior director for special projects at Florida Poly who is very involved with the university’s Advanced Mobility Institute, where AV is being researched, said the new language is “generally good” and helps “clean up” the language in the bill. He also said the Legislature has allocated $500,000 to AMI, which also awaits the governor’s approval.
Specifically, the bill authorizes FDOT, “in consultation with the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, to conduct pilot or demonstration programs to explore the efficient implementation of innovative transportation technologies; authorizing the Florida Turnpike Enterprise to enter into one or more agreements to fund, construct, and operate facilities for the advancement of autonomous and connected innovative transportation technologies for certain purposes.”
It also says a “licensed human operator is not required to operate a fully autonomous vehicle and removes the requirement that a person possess a valid driver license to operate a fully autonomous vehicle. The bill also provides that the automated driving system, rather than a person, is deemed the operator of an autonomous vehicle when operating with the automated driving system engaged.”