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DeSantis Signs Galvano's Controversial Toll Road Project into Law

TALLAHASSEE – On Friday afternoon, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed SB 7068 into law. The controversial "toll roads to nowhere bill" was the top priority of Florida Senate President Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) in this year's legislative session.

The project's supporters claim it will bring economic development to rural areas and relief to Florida's traffic congestion problems. Its opponents say it will devastate rural environments, overstrain the state's capacity for growth in terms of water and other resources, and encourage more sprawl, while doing little or nothing in terms of mitigating traffic issues.

There's also the enormous expense that opponents say would be better spent addressing the state's infrastructure, water quality, and public education issues. The law authorizes $45 million next year just in studies. Study and planning will jump to $90 million in FY 2020-21, about $135 million the following year, and about $140 million in FY 2022-23. After that, billions more will be bonded to actually build the toll roads from 2023 until their scheduled completion by the end of 2030.

The massive project will be the largest expansion of Florida’s highway system in six decades, paving its way mostly through rural, interior parts of the state. The Suncoast Parkway, which currently extends less than 60 miles from Hillsborough to Citrus County and has not attracted enough drivers to pay for itself, will be expanded through the middle of the state, all the way to the Georgia state line. The Florida Turnpike will be extended west from its connection at I-75 to connect to the Suncoast Parkway, and a new toll road will travel from Lakeland all the way to the Naples area. Florida already has more miles of toll roads than any other state in the U.S.

The plan was launched without even consulting FDOT, circumventing the normal process in which the transportation department studies such needs and makes requests for needed roadway projects. FDOT had previously said that expanding capacity on existing highways would be a more effective solution than building new roads. The project also caught Georgia off-guard, as officials at the Georgia Department of Transportation said a request for comment from the Tampa Bay Times was the first they'd even heard of the idea of linking the Suncoast Parkway to their state. Many of the communities that the bill's supporters claimed would benefit from the project expressed loud opposition to the plan.

A number of environmental groups opposed the bill, including Sierra Club Florida.

"Sierra Club Florida is deeply disappointed that Governor DeSantis has chosen to destroy much of Florida’s remaining natural and rural areas to build unnecessary and costly toll roads that won’t meet Florida’s true transportation needs," said Tim Martin, Sierra Club Florida Conservation Chair. "By ignoring the recommendations of the I- 75 Relief Task Force, the Governor’s decision to build the 'roads to nowhere' will do nothing to address congestion in urban areas, and funding to support these new toll roads will be prioritized over other necessary transportation projects."