The Florida Department of Transportation has submitted its three M-CORES Task Force reports to Gov. Ron DeSantis, offering the Governor final recommendations on how to build proposed toll roads across the state.
Because the department has not begun the planning process for either the Suncoast, Northern Turnpike or Southwest-Central Florida corridors, the panel determined it was unable to fully answer the tasks the Legislature asked of it.
“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,” according to all three reports.
Furthermore, without specific needs already identified, “the task force expressed a preference for improvement or expansion of existing major highway corridors,” according to the reports.
In 2019, the Legislature gave FDOT until Sunday to present its final results, which will guide the department through the coming study phases. Those findings were expected Friday, but the department released them a day earlier than anticipated.
The Suncoast Connector study area extends from Citrus County to Jefferson County, the Northern Turnpike Connector portion extends from the northern terminus of the Florida Turnpike northwest to the Suncoast Parkway and the Southwest-Central Florida Connector extends from Collier County to Polk County.
Fifteen months ago, the task force began considering economic and environmental impacts of the proposed routes.
Improving congestion, hurricane evacuation, trade and logistics are all intended benefits of the toll roads. Others include increasing broadband and other utility connections and laying the groundwork for a greater autonomous vehicle network.
Supporting the growing state and regional population, improving safety and connectivity, protecting the environment, and enhancing travel options and emergency management are some of the “high-level” needs identified in the reports.
The M-CORES project drew early opposition from environmental groups. Protecting or enhancing wildlife corridors, spring protection zones, farmland and other environmentally sensitive areas were also intended goals, but groups like the No Roads to Ruin Coalition wanted the task force to advise against building the toll roads for environmental and economic reasons.
In a statement following FDOT’s delivery to the Governor, the coalition issued a statement calling the reports “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,” according to the coalition.
About 93% of the nearly 10,000 public comments during the public input period were negative, the group determined earlier this year.
“Spending any more time or resources on M-CORES comes at the expense of completing a backlog of water quality and transportation infrastructure upgrades that address current needs,” they added. “Investing in outdated transportation and urban sprawl development models is an irresponsible approach for a state on the front lines of climate change.”