Despite the pandemic, people are continuing to move to our great state and our population is continuing to grow. Tourists are also eager to return to our top-ranked beaches and attractions. To ensure we are ready to meet this inevitable increased demand, Florida leaders must continue to keep an eye on our state’s long-term infrastructure needs and goals.
That is exactly what the Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (M-CORES) Program was designed for. The program is an opportunity for Florida to thoughtfully plan now for the future while protecting sensitive environmental lands and waterways and revitalizing rural communities.
Unfortunately, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried recently spoke out against the project. Though we ultimately disagree with her assessment of the situation, we appreciate her interest in the issue and would welcome the opportunity to have a conversation about how we can solve Florida’s infrastructure problems and make sure that we do it in a responsible way.
While we too support innovative, smart infrastructure solutions, the reality is that, for the foreseeable future, our state will be reliant on our highway system, not only as a means for residents and tourists to get around but also for trucks to move goods from one place to another, whether it be from one Florida community to another or sending ‘Fresh From Florida’ products to other states.
With Florida being surrounded by water on three sides, truck is actually the leading mode of freight transportation. In fact, according to the American Transportation Research Institute, 84.9% of Florida communities depend exclusively on trucks to move their goods. Trucking is especially critical for agriculture and rural communities, as it allows farmers and ranchers to reach additional markets outside of their immediate area.
These facts cannot be ignored. As Florida’s population continues to grow, there will be an increasing number of personal vehicles, as well as trucks moving goods, on our roads, in a state that is already plagued with traffic congestion issues. We will need additional roadways throughout our state. And we should plan for them before the need becomes overwhelming and the process becomes rushed.
But you’re right, in that we can be innovative in the way we do it. We can do more than just build new roads. We can be thoughtful about it, protecting the areas that need it, identifying the areas that want growth, incorporating different modes of transportation — from cars and trucks, to bikes and trains — and improving connectivity for underserved areas and more. All of these need corridors of land.
Florida must prepare for the future. We cannot simply say no to smart progress. Let’s do it now, while we have the time to discuss the innovative options available and to determine the smartest solutions for our state.
Ananth Prasad is a former secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation.