A controversial expansion of Florida’s highway system sailed through the state Senate on Wednesday, and paved the way for the house to approve plans that the Sierra Club of Florida says could have devastating effects on the environment.
“This catastrophic plan calls for hundreds of miles of new toll roads into rural Florida,” the Sierra Club wrote. “Senate Bill 7068 and House Bill 7113 would commit the state to spend billions of dollars to build three new tollways through some of the last remaining rural and environmentally sensitive areas in our state.”
SB 7068 passed the senate on a 37-1 vote on Wednesday, with Miami Sen. Jose Javier being the lone “Nay” vote. Four Bay area Republicans — Tom Lee, Ed Hooper, Jeff Brandes and Senate President Bill Galvano, who has prioritized the expansion — voted to pass the expansion. Two local Democrats, Darryl Rouson and Janet Cruz, also voted for the expansion.
CL left a voicemail at the district offices for Rouson and a representative at Cruz’s district office said that the senator had yet to release a public statement and may do so towards the end of the session.
The Senate bill says the project would cost $45 million in fiscal year 2020, $90 million in 2021 and then $135 million annually through 2030. The total would be more than $1.3 billion.
The plan includes work on three toll roads, including the Tampa Bay-area Suncoast Parkway, which currently runs about 60 miles from Hillsborough County to Citrus County. The plan would extend the parkway another 150 miles to the Georgia line. Proponents point to the fact that the road would serve as an evacuation route and serve an area of rural Florida that gets ignored, but other expansion would run through a swath of North Florida Florida Trend referred to as perhaps “the largest continuous piece of undeveloped property in private hands east of the Mississippi River.”
Florida Phoenix points out that Florida’s richest man, Thomas Peterffy, owns a large part of rural Taylor County where some of the new roads would run. State records show that Peterffy gave $310,000 to the Friends of Ron DeSantis and to a Republican political action committee, Fund for Florida’s Future, in 2017-2018.
Galvano has said he doesn’t know the billionaire, whom Forbes values at $18.5 billion. Peterffy, for his part, has claimed not to know about the expansion.
“The first and only time I heard of this was in a newspaper article that insinuated I had bribed officials to do this,” Peterffy said in a Tampa Bay Times article. “I just find it ridiculous, reprehensible, and I do not understand how these people come up with these things.”
Environmentalists are probably hoping that DeSantis, who’s been acting like an eco-warrior lately, will veto the plan.