Roads vs. pristine Florida? Gov. DeSantis signs massive toll road bill

By: - May 17, 2019 1:29 pm

Gov. Ron DeSantis signs massive toll roads expansion. May 2017. Source: Florida Senate

Despite pleas from two former state governors and at least 90 environmental and community groups and businesses, Gov. Ron DeDantis on Friday signed a multibillion-dollar plan to build long stretches of toll roads across undeveloped sections of the state.

The legislation has been labeled “the worst environmental bill in twenty years.” And the Florida Sierra Club has warned of pristine areas becoming urban sprawl, where “subdivisions and strip malls will proliferate and the natural resources that bring visitors to the state will be overused and overrun.”

DeSantis approved the bill anyway.

The announcement came not from the governor’s press office but from aides to Senate President Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican who made the projects his priority during the 2019 legislative session – and who would be in a position to frustrate the DeSantis’ agenda in the future if crossed.

The governor’s office had no immediate reply to a request for comment, but at 2:08 p.m. released an updated daily schedule listing the bill signing at 11:45 a.m. at the Longboat Key Club & Resort, where Galvano was hosting a golf tournament honoring his late father. The office issued a press release announcing the signing at 3:22 p.m.

Earlier, during a ceremonial signing in Sarasota of legislation making texting while driving a primary offense, DeSantis had signaled that he was ready to sign the bill.

“I think we need new roads in Florida to get around. It’s a bill that I’ll support and sign,” DeSantis told reporters.

“Particularly, Southwest Florida and into Central Florida, right now you have to go all the way around [Interstate] 75. It’s not a good route. To have a more direct route there I think would be good. Completing the Suncoast Parkway I think would give another route to places like Tallahassee and Northwest Florida, particularly from Central Florida,” he said.

DeSantis envisions additional road building in the future.

“We’re probably going to need more than that, just given how our state’s growing and given that traffic can be a big problem. So, I’m supportive of infrastructure,” he said.

The Florida Senate office distributed a photograph showing DeSantis holding a signing document with his signature affixed. Flanking him were Galvano, Lt. Gov Jeanette Nuñez, and three Republican state senators – Tom Lee of Thonotosassa, who ushered the legislation through passage; Wilton Simpson, representing Citrus, Hernando, and parts of Pasco counties; and Joe Gruters of Sarasota, who also is Florida’s Republican party chairman.

DeSantis has called himself a “Teddy Roosevelt Republican” and frequently touts environmental legislation he helped push through the Legislature.

But critics of this legislation warn it would endanger farm and forest land plus environmentally fragile wetlands and streams.

The Sierra Club, for example, warned during the legislative session that the projects would “fragment landscape and wildlife habitat. The intended ‘benefits’ of these toll roads include water and sewer infrastructure which, with on and off ramps, will accelerate urban sprawl in the last of Florida’s undeveloped areas.”

The legislation, SB 7068, authorizes more than $400 million between 2020 and 2023 to plan and begin construction along vague corridors extending the Suncoast Parkway to Jefferson County; the Florida Turnpike from I-17 in Wildwood to the Suncoast Parkway; and running between Polk and Collier counties. Task forces will plot the actual routes, with a target for being open to traffic before the end of 2030..

Former governors Bob Graham and Charlie Crist both opposed the measure. Crist noted he’d vetoed similar legislation while in office, saying: “A prudent approach would be to invest this funding in the infrastructure of the future, rather than doubling down on the mistakes of the past.”

But Sen. Lee praised the project, saying in a news release: “With this legislation signed into law today, we are taking a huge step forward in our work to sustain the historic rural communities that have powered Florida’s economy for generations.”

As the Phoenix earlier reported, one main toll road route, through North Central Florida, would benefit Florida’s richest man,  Thomas Peterffy, a Republican donor who gave hundreds of thousands to the DeSantis campaign. He has a mansion on Palm Beach’s Billionaire’s Row and is a member of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club.

Meanwhile, regular folks on household budgets will have to pay tolls when they drive on the new roads.

Here’s a list of previous Phoenix stories about the toll road plan:; Former Gov. Bob Graham asks Gov. DeSantis to veto multi-billion-dollar toll road plan and bill that punishes anyone who challenges development ; Legislature’s planned road project could benefit Florida’s richest manVague, multi-billion-dollar plan to build new toll roads across Florida passes Legislature; Ignoring pleas for more scrutiny and local control, Republicans advance multi-billion dollar toll road planGroups blast Legislature’s proposed new toll road plan as “worst ever” billWho needs trees? We want toll roads!Sierra Club: If DeSantis says he is a ‘Teddy Roosevelt” Republican, he should veto massive toll road scheme


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Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal.