Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill Friday, May 17, that is potentially the state’s largest road project in decades, paving the way for building new toll roads on the western side of the state.

DeSantis, a self-described “Teddy Roosevelt of conservation,” simply stated he felt new roads were needed to get around when announcing he would support and sign SB 7068. He has advocated for more urban infrastructure since taking office in January. However, his action has provoked a number of critical responses from environmental organizations such as the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation.

This is terrible news for Florida’s wild lands and wetlands,” said SCCF CEO Ryan Orgera, Ph.D. “Regrettably, this is a big step in the wrong direction on water quality, and an unfortunate regression in what has been a promising water agenda coming from the governor.”

The law will build roads and utility infrastructure through valuable conservation lands, which are critical to store, clean and recharge Florida’s water supply. Even though wetlands are the primary water filters for the state, these proposed toll roads will eliminate thousands of acres and threaten thousands more by making it vulnerable to future development.

There could be a new road from Polk County to Collier County, plus an extension of the Suncoast Parkway to the Georgia border and Florida’s Turnpike to the Suncoast. The bill creates a new task force of state and local officials for each stretch of roadway to make recommendations.

Where the roads would go, how much they would cost and how they would be paid for will be decided by the Department of Transportation, which does not have to use any of the task force recommendations. Funding, however, could divert existing state general funds away from water infrastructure and projects to counter the pollution created by the state’s population growth.

Beyond the negative impact to our state’s environment, Floridians are the biggest losers in this deal,” said Orgera. “This will exacerbate our ongoing water crisis.”

Under the bill, the state would begin construction of the roads by 2022 and be completed by 2030.