(The Center Square) – Three task force reports on the Florida Legislature’s tentative multibillion dollar plan to build 340 miles of toll roads by 2030 have arrived on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk.
All three include the same statement: “The Task Force did not reach a conclusion based on the information available at this time that there is a specific need for a completely new greenfield corridor or modifications of existing facilities through the study area to achieve the statutory purpose.”
The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) submitted the reports to DeSantis on Thursday, three days before Sunday's deadline set by lawmakers when they created the panels to study the proposed Multi-Use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (M-CORES) plan.
The three 40-member committees studied the three proposed M-CORES toll roads for more than a year but were unable to ascertain a need for them, citing “a preference for improvement or expansion of existing major highway corridors.”
M-CORES outlines construction of:
• A 150-mile Southwest-Central Florida Connector from Lakeland to Naples;
• The Suncoast Connector, a 40-mile span linking the Florida Turnpike and I-75 with the Suncoast Parkway;
• The Northern Turnpike Connector, which would extend the Suncoast Parkway 150 miles north to Georgia.
Construction would begin in 2022 and end in 2030. M-CORES would be funded through license plate tag revenue – $1.1 billion over a decade to finance a bond; estimates range from $10 billion to more than $24 billion.
Lawmakers in 2019 approved Senate Bill 7068, which called for the creation of the task forces to study the proposal and allocated $45 million for the studies.
SB 7068 authorized $90 million for M-CORES in this year’s budget, $135 million in fiscal year 2022 and $140 million annually through fiscal year 2030, totaling $1.1 billion.
That money is not assured, however. Funding must be approved annually. Task force recommendations were to be key factors in determining whether M-CORES will be funded.
M-CORES is widely opposed, including by the 80-member No Roads to Ruin coalition, which is spearheaded by Sierra Club, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Florida Policy Institute, Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast and the League of Women Voters.
The coalition said Friday the delivery of the reports to DeSantis is “nothing to celebrate.”
“The entire M-CORES process has been flawed and represents a callous preference for special interests and developers over what is best for the people of Florida,” the coalition said.
During the three task forces’ 15 months of public hearings, the coalition said 93% of 10,000 public comments opposed the projects.
“Spending any more time or resources on M-CORES comes at the expense of completing a backlog of water quality and transportation infrastructure upgrades,” No Roads To Ruin said. “Investing in outdated transportation and urban sprawl development models is an irresponsible approach for a state on the front lines of climate change.”
The Southwest-Central Florida Connector report could not identify a “specific need” for a toll road to span Polk, Highlands and Collier but recommended FDOT “evaluate improving infrastructure” in the region.
The Suncoast Connector report said the task force was “not able to fully address its charge of evaluating the needs for and impacts” of the proposed toll road that would link the Florida Turnpike and I-75 in Citrus and Jefferson counties although it identified some “high-level needs" for the project.
The Northern Turnpike Connector report states in its introduction, “Due to the early stage of planning for this corridor and the limited data and analysis on potential needs and impacts available at this time, the Task Force was not able to fully address its charge of evaluating the needs for and impacts of the Northern Turnpike Corridor.”