Earmark interchange removed from road plan

Posted: Sunday, August 19, 2007

FORT MYERS, Fla. - An Interstate 75 interchange study in southwest Florida that would have been paid for by a controversial congressional earmark has been removed from a regional road plan.

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The Metropolitan Planning Organization voted 10-3 Friday to scuttle a proposed study on the interchange that would have connected I-75 to Coconut Road in Lee County, despite warnings from some on the board and the board's staff that the move could hurt the county's chances for future federal road money. Some in Congress have also already suggested as much, including Fort Myers Republican Connie Mack.

Local officials never asked for federal money to pay for the interchange, but Lee County leaders voted in June to go forward with the study anyway. It would have been paid for by a $10 million earmark put into the federal budget by U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, who made it clear the money could be used only for the Coconut Road interchange study.

Area newspapers reported that Young got the money into the federal budget after benefiting from a fundraiser two years ago that was hosted by a builder who owns land surrounding the proposed Coconut Road interchange.

Young's office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Friday. But Young said earlier this month that he thought the interchange was good for the area and that local people supported it.

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