Florida closer to building 3 new toll roads

The state is a step closer to building more than 300 miles of roads.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill kicking off plans to study the building of roads connecting Polk and Collier counties and Citrus County to the Panhandle.

That also means the state is a step closer to big court battles, as environmental groups dig in to stop it.

One would connect Polk to Collier, one would extend the Suncoast Parkway from Citrus to the Georgia border, and a third would connecting the Suncoast to the Turnpike.

"I call it the spine of the state," said State Sen. Bill Galvano, a champion of the measure. "So often those communities get forgotten, economically and otherwise."

The Sierra Club describes the 320 miles of toll roads in a different way.

"We call it the toll roads to nowhere," said Frank Jackalone of the Sierra Club.

Environmentalists say the roads would have to go through acres of pristine areas filled with wildlife and water. 

They insist that the roads will bring not just car exhaust, but suburban sprawl to otherwise untouched places.

"You are going to pollute the area, and the wildlife will die, slowly but surely," said Jackalone.

Now that the state has committed to spending $45 million on task forces to study the needs for the roads, the possible paths they'd take, and the eventual costs, the Sierra Club is promising to fight. 

They are hoping to rally those who live near the potential roadways and find sympathetic judges.

"Everywhere there is a permit, we will be there with the fight," said Jackalone. "We will challenge any bad decisions being made in court."

Backers insist the roads are needed to keep up with population growth and to help connect rural communities to high-speed internet and sewer. 

With billions of dollars in tolls, tax money and future development on the line, the state is much closer to the starting line, than the finish line.

"We will probably need more [roads] than that," said Gov. Ron DeSantis, "given how our state is growing and how traffic is a big problem."