Connect with us

Tampa Bay

Environmentalists to rally in St. Pete against $1B toll road project

Environmental groups say the three projects would harm natural habitats.

Environmentalists statewide are calling on Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto legislation that would create more than 300 miles of toll roads through rural areas of the state.

DeSantis, who received the bill Monday, has 15 days to sign it into law.

Environmental groups say the three projects would harm natural habitats, degrade water quality and encourage urban sprawl.

The Sierra Club and several other environmental watchdog groups are rallying at St. Petersburg’s William’s Park Tuesday evening at 5:30 to “get the veto.”

Another press conference was set for Hollywood to support “transit not toll roads.” Protesters also will rally in Gainesville Wednesday.

The project would extend the now 60-mile Suncoast Parkway from its current terminus north of Spring Hill along 150-miles of pristine rural land.

It would also create a 150-mile toll road from Lakeland to Naples and create 30 miles of tolled expressway to connect Wildwood to the new span of the Suncoast Parkway.

Groups participating in the St. Pete rally include Around the Bend Nature Tours, Awake Pinellas, Chart 411, St. Pete Earth Day, Defenders of Wildlife, Environment Florida, Florida Conservation Voters, Food & Water Watch, League of Women Voters, Progress Florida, and the Sierra Club.

Rep. Ben Diamond and Congressman Charlie Crist, both Democrats, will also speak at the rally.

Opponents tried unsuccessfully to kill the proposal before it passed the Legislature and now DeSantis’ veto pen is their final hope to kill the $1 billion project.

Group’s argue the new roads are unnecessary. In one argument, opponents shared a satellite image of Florida at night that documented where light pollution exists. The area where the expanded Suncoast Parkway would exist was pitch black. The image was meant to make the point that very few drivers would use the toll road.

But supporters say it’s necessary to encourage economic development in financially struggling rural areas and accommodate future growth in the state.

In floor debate on the bill, Democratic Rep. Wengay Newton of St. Petersburg argued the new infrastructure would also provide needed evacuation routes for residents fleeing the state during emergencies like the 2017 Hurricane Irma.

“We’ve also got to make sure we have the capacity to get people out of harm’s way when imminent danger is upon us. As you saw with Irma and we reversed all the lanes on Interstate 75, it was a parking lot,” Newton said.

Newton actually broke from his party’s position to support the project.

Sierra Club volunteer Tim Martin has been integral in opposition efforts. He countered Newton’s claim on Facebook.

“The state’s own emergency management website advises people not to leave their county during a hurricane event, but rather to seek shelter somewhere in the vicinity,” Martin wrote.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

Sign up for Sunburn

Receive our team's agenda-setting morning read of what's hot in Florida politics. Delivered straight to your inbox Monday through Friday.

Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Jim Rosica, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Dan McAuliffe, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson.
Email: Peter@FloridaPolitics.com
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

Connect
Sign up for Sunburn

Receive our team's agenda-setting morning read of what's hot in Florida politics. Delivered straight to your inbox Monday through Friday.