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Environmental Groups Vow To 'Declare War' On Toll Road Bill

St. Petersburg City Council member Darden Rice, at podium, and Sierra Club Florida Chapter Director Frank Jackalone, right, rally against the toll road bill.
Steve Newborn
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

On Earth Day, Florida environmental groups took dead aim at a plan by lawmakers to build three new toll roads through the heart of the state.

Legislationis rolling through the Florida Senate that would fund a study of three toll expressways: An extension of The Suncoast Parkway from where it ends in Citrus County north to the Georgia border, an extension of The Florida Turnpike from the east to hook up with the Suncoast Parkway, which runs along the west coast; and another connecting Polk County to Collier County.

Critics have decried the potential for sprawl and environmental impacts from building the roads through what is mostly rural countryside.

Frank Jackalone said it's the worst environmental bill he's seen during his 20 years as director of Sierra Club Florida.

"If this bill is passed, we will declare war on all of those who have sponsored it," he said during a news conference at the Sierra Club's St. Petersburg headquarters. "We will mount the most massive campaign Sierra Club has ever done in Florida in our history to stop those toll roads."

The bill is being pushed by Senate President Bill Galvano of Bradenton. He says it would ease traffic on the state's major north-south highways and promote development of rural areas.

Jackalone says targeting those rural areas is the wrong way to manage the state's inevitable growth.

"The bill would fuel massive sprawl, which would destroy much of the natural and rural Florida," Jackalone said. "It would also increase water pollution, flooding and deplete our natural resources."

His words were echoed by St. Petersburg City Council member Darden Rice, who said cities like hers are at the forefront of trying to combat climate change and environmental degradation.

"These roads that we see being proposed to go through the last bits of countryside and wildlife we have left in the state, we know that these roads are basically can openers into the countryside," Rice said. "And it makes all of our work on solutions, it makes that mountainside that much steeper."

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Steve Newborn is WUSF's assistant news director as well as a reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.