TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (NEWS SERVICE FLORIDA) - As Gov. Ron DeSantis considers a bill aimed at building or expanding three toll roads, he is facing pressure from both sides of the controversial issue.
A series of protests kicked off Tuesday in Hollywood and St. Petersburg urging DeSantis to reject the legislation (SB 7068), which is a priority of Senate President Bill Galvano but has drawn opposition from environmental groups fearful of sprawling development and damaged natural habitats.
“It will negatively impact agriculture and tourism, the very industries upon which this area depends,” Stephanie Pearson, Environmental Issues Committee chair of the League of Women Voters of Broward County, said in a statement Tuesday.
“Any possible benefits to wealthy landowners and some businesses in the short term cannot justify spending billions of dollars and damaging important agricultural and rural lands and wildlife habitats.”
The bill would earmark $45 million during the upcoming fiscal year and begin steps to expand the Suncoast Parkway from the Tampa Bay area to the Georgia border; extend the Florida Turnpike west to connect with the Suncoast Parkway; and adds a new multi-use corridor, including a toll road, from Polk County to Collier County.
Galvano, R-Bradenton, argues the projects would help lead to economic development in rural areas, handle future population growth and provide additional hurricane-evacuation routes. Supporters of the bill on Tuesday touted the support of Craig Fugate, a former Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator and former Florida Division of Emergency Management director.
“Looking at past hurricane seasons, especially last year during Hurricane Michael when some Floridians experienced great congestion trying to get to safety, we know the need is inevitable,” Fugate said in a release that also featured former House Speaker Will Weatherford, Florida Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mark Wilson, Associated Industries of Florida President and CEO Tom Feeney and Florida Trucking Association President and CEO Kenneth Armstrong.
The bill was formally sent to DeSantis on Monday. He has until May 28 to sign, veto or allow it to become law without his signature.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.