Online meetings this week on proposed Florida toll highways

m-cores toll roads protest

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This week the Florida Department of Transportation is hosting online meetings to discuss three proposed toll highways through rural parts of the state.

But several environmental groups oppose what’s called M-CORES. They want the whole plan scrapped.

Julianne Thomas is a senior environmental planning specialist with the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

M-CORES stands for Multi-Use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance. They were created through a bill in 2019 for three different highways. One that goes from Polk County to Collier County, which we call Southwest Central. Another one called the Suncoast Connector which goes through Marion and Citrus County and then there’s one that goes from Citrus County up to the Georgia state line called the Northern Connector.

“Because of the location of our organization, we mostly focus on the Southwest Central connector. But I am aware of all three. I am part of an organization called No Roads to Ruin, which is a coalition of organizations, which are fighting to stop these tolls roads.”

Listen:

Thomas says that one problem with the highways is that they would harm the Florida Panther population.

“We have so many. The main one for us for the Southwest Central corridor is the Florida panther. The Florida panther has a limited range of their primary habitat and also their adult breeding habitat. Any additional fragmentation or loss of habitat is going to be very detrimental to the survival and recovery of the Florida panther. So we are obviously extremely concerned about any additional roads, any expansion of roads in Florida panther habitat.

“We also recognize, and want to make sure everybody else recognizes, that if we truly want the Florida panther to recover, we not only need to protect the current primary zone, but we need to protect other areas that the panther can move into and live. We can’t just go around fragmenting other large habitats and other large landscapes.

“Because one of the things to understand about the Florida panther is while it is in itself an iconic species, it’s also what’s known as an umbrella species, which means that there are a lot of other endangered and listed species that use their same habitat. So if we protect the Florida panther we are also protecting more than 20 other listed and threatened species.”

Listen:

Thomas says the best decision would be for the Florida M-CORES toll highways not to be built at all.

“A no-build option is an option and that is what we are recommending to the task force members. We are recommending that they — that their guiding principles say that there should be a no-build option and that their principle should be to not build these roads. That is what we are recommending to the task force members.

“The way that the public can get involved is by registering for the webinars and they can do that by going to Florida M-CORES. They have a website and they can register for the webinars and they can listen in and there’s also an option for them to provide public comment if they have things they want to say.

“I also would recommend that anyone interested in learning more go to noroadstoruin.org. There’s a website for this coalition. More than 85 organizations and businesses that will give people a lot of information about this. And also other ways to get involved, other ways to contact FDOT if they want to send them an email and also task force members in their area if there are specific people that they want to be able to contact and let them know how they feel.”

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Watch much more of this interview here:

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