Protesters Call On Gov. DeSantis For 'Transit, Not Toll Roads'

May 14, 2019
Originally published on May 14, 2019 6:30 pm

"Veto! Veto! Veto!"

A group of about two dozen protesters chanted in front of the Tri-Rail station in Hollywood Tuesday. Together, they represented a handful of environmental groups that have been writing letters and calling Gov. Ron DeSantis's office, asking him to veto two bills on his desk.

One of the bills, Senate Bill 7068, would create a new program for "Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance," within the state's Department of Transportation. The second one. House Bill 7103, establishes that developers who are challenged in court and win the case are entitled to compensation for attorney fees and court costs. 

Both bills were passed by lawmakers during the recent legislative session but have not been signed into law yet.

Under the new multi-use regional corridors program, a  series of regional toll roads would be created in rural areas, including:  a Southwest-Central Florida Connector extending from Collier County to Polk County; a Suncoast Connector extending from Citrus County to Jefferson County; and a Northern Turnpike Connector extending from the northern Florida Turnpike northwest to the Suncoast Parkway.

Legislators believe the new roads - which would be a part of the Turnpike system - will provide more hurricane evacuation routes and congestion relief. However, environmental groups argue the roads will have a negative impact on agricultural areas and wetlands. 

"There's no way they're not going to disrupt some of the last remaining natural areas, disturbing habitats and human resources," Sue Caruso, from the Sierra Club, said.

She's also concerned about small towns that rely on tourism. 

"I have a cabin near Ichetucknee Springs...people go there to spend money," Caruso said. "That is money you can count on. And the businesses that will get passed by with these toll roads are going to suffer."

Diana Umpierre led the protest, on behalf of the Sierra Club. She encouraged the governor to instead invest more resources into public transit, like the Tri-Rail.  

"We tend to call [it] 'Toll Roads To Nowhere,'" Umpierre said of the bill. "We believe that this is not where infrastructure, where investments should be made."

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The Sierra Club is one of 90 environmental groups have been calling and sending letters to the governor's office asking him to veto the bill.

The other bill that the environmental organizations are encouraging the governor to veto is House Bill 7103 - or the Community Development and Housing bill. 

It would first require that developers include a certain amount of affordable units in a housing project, or to contribute to a housing fund. And, county governments will be required to provide enough incentives to fully offset a developer's costs when it comes to affordable housing. (An earlier version of the bill would have done the opposite: prohibited cities from requiring that affordable housing units in new development projects.)  

The version of the bill on the governor's desk would also require anyone who challenges a developer and loses, to pay the opposing side's attorney fees and court costs. 

Richard Grosso, a land-use attorney and law professor at Nova Southeastern University in Davie, said because court fees are often into the six figures, people and nonprofits won't be able to afford to challenge developer's plans anymore.  

"No local citizens will be able to take that risk, be able to take that chance," Grosso said.

 

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