The state is considering building three major toll highways through rural parts of West Florida. The projects are part of what are called M-CORES and the draft final reports were recently released. The state DOT is taking public comment until Wednesday and has three days of online and in-person meetings in Tampa beginning October 19.
For more on M-CORES and these proposed toll highways, WMNF spoke with Lindsay Cross, she’s government relations director with Florida Conservation Voters.
“M-CORES which stands for the multi-use corridors of regional and economic significance is a massive infrastructure project that’s been going on for a little over a year.
“It first came to being through a piece of legislation in 2019 which was Senate Bill 7068, which was voted on. It was a very rushed bill that went through at the end of session. The governor signed it into law in May of 2019 and it started a very aggressive, approximately 15-month process to evaluate the need and the potential impacts of building up to 330 new miles of toll roads throughout our state … some of them in our most natural and rural communities.
“So it’s something that organizations and businesses and really Floridians across the state have been concerned about since they learned about this legislation last year.
“DOT [Florida Department of Transportation] through its mandate in the Senate Bill has been hosting a series of task force meetings. Those task forces are made up of approximately 40 individuals representing different organizations, whether that’s special interests like the trucking industry. There’s a lot of state agencies that are represented such as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, and or department of education. There’s also a handful of environmental nonprofits that sit on those groups.
“They have been meeting for over a year now. The process started in August of 2019 with a joint task force meeting that was held at the Tampa Convention Center. And we are getting ready for the final round of M-CORES meeting which will be in just about 2 weeks. And DOT is again proposing to have in-person meetings in Tampa as the final round which would be number nine for the task force meetings.
“Throughout this process, the task force members have been tasked — first of all — with evaluating the need for these roads. Which is something they have not been able to do because there is not a need for all of this asphalt and the associated development that will come with it. The task force has been required to help develop some guiding principles that will guide the way this road planning process goes forward.
“And DOT has been collating those comments and that input and now are at the process where they have a draft final report for each of the three task forces.
“So for those who are not familiar with kind of the location of these, there’s three different corridors that are under study, under review essentially, in the Southern part of the state. There’s one called the Southwest Central Connector which goes from Collier up to Polk County, so that’s an eight-county area.
“There’s one which is the SunCoast Connector which goes from Citrus County up to Jefferson County and could eventually go up into the Georgia border. That one is a seven-county area.
“And then a small piece in between is called the Northern Turnpike Connector and that’s a 4 county area which is meant to connect our existing Florida Turnpike with the SunCoast Parkway which is the toll road in Citrus County right now.
“So there are draft reports for each three of the task forces that DOT (Department of Transportation) published on their website on September 29th. It triggered a 15-day public comment period which will end on October 14th. So that means for members of the public who are interested and concerned about this process, we really only have about a week left to comment on those reports which are about 40 pages each.”
Watch this interview: