Gov. Ron DeSantis gave the green light to Florida’s largest potential road project in decades, signing a bill Friday that could pave the way for building a massive new toll road through the state and extending two others.
The decision came despite overwhelming objections from environmental groups, who held protests calling on the self-described “Teddy Roosevelt conservationist” governor to veto the bill.
At a separate bill signing in Sarasota Friday morning, DeSantis said he would sign off on the toll roads, but didn’t mention he was going to do it just minutes later.
“I think we need new roads in Florida to get around,” he said. “It’s a bill that I’ll support and sign.”
DeSantis didn’t address the concerns from environmentalists, who fear the roads will lead to sprawl through rural and sensitive areas of the state, wiping out wetlands and wildlife corridors.
And he spoke only briefly about why the roads were necessary, saying just that it would be “good” to have new routes in the state.
MORE ON THE TOLL ROADS: With toll roads bill, DeSantis faces his first test as an environmental champion
“Completing the Suncoast Parkway, I think, would give another route to places like Tallahassee and Northwest Florida, particularly from Central Florida,” he said. “So I think that that’s something that’s good.”
After taking office in January, DeSantis had advocated for more urban infrastructure, and he said Friday that the new toll roads probably won’t be enough to handle growth in the state.
“We’re probably going to need more than that just given the state’s growing and just given that traffic could be a big problem,” he said. “So I’m supportive of infrastructure.”
The signing happened minutes later at the Longboat Key Club, where Senate President Bill Galvano was hosting a golf tournament for his late father.
Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, made the new toll roads his top priority this legislative session, resurrecting an idea that had been cast aside by two previous governors over the last 15 years.
“This legislation is a long-term investment that will provide numerous benefits to our state infrastructure,” Galvano said in a statement.
Galvano was sold on the idea for the roads from the Florida Chamber of Commerce and road builders, which were by far the biggest supporters of the bill.
Those organizations praised DeSantis on Friday, while environmentalists decried his decision and vowed to fight it in court and in the Legislature.
“This decision will haunt the governor,” Sierra Club Florida Conservation Chair Tim Martin said in a statement. “Teddy Roosevelt is probably rolling in his grave right now that a comparison was ever made between him and Gov. DeSantis.”
The bill could lead to three new roads in the state: A new road from Polk County to Collier County, extending the Suncoast Parkway to the Georgia border and extending Florida’s Turnpike to the Suncoast.
It passed the Legislature with overwhelming support, although many key questions remain unanswered. Where exactly the roads would go, how much they would cost, how they would be paid for and whether they are necessary will be decided by Florida’s Department of Transportation.
The bill creates a new task force of state and local officials for each stretch of roadway, and those task forces will make recommendations to the state. But transportation officials do not have to follow the recommendations.
Under the bill, the state would start construction of the roads by 2022 and be finished by 2030.