House adopts changes to toll road plan, nears M-CORES repeal

The road to nowhere's going somewhere.

The House has voted to reroute a proposed toll road away from Jefferson County. Meanwhile, a House panel is slated to consider a separate proposal to scrap most of the state toll road plan.

Lawmakers voted Thursday 115-2 to erase Jefferson County as the terminus for the Suncoast Connector, intended to extend the Suncoast Parkway to Interstate 10 and the Georgia border. Republican Rep. Jason Shoaf, whose district covers Jefferson County, told members his proposal (HB 6059) comes after the County Commission passed a resolution in December asking lawmakers to remove the county from the route.

“The citizens of Jefferson County were loud and clear, and their County Commission passed a resolution requesting to be removed as the terminus,” Shoaf said.

The road, which doesn’t yet have a set route, could now terminate wherever else state planners see fit.

The Suncoast Connector is one of three proposed toll roads in the Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (M-CORES) program. Former Senate President Bill Galvano pushed for the plan and got it two years ago, but environmental groups and some counties have opposed it. Galvano’s successor, Wilton Simpson, has also supported scaling back the plan in part because of the COVID-19 pandemic and funding cuts.

Last month, the Senate voted to scrap the toll road proposal (SB 100), diverting Department of Transportation (FDOT) funds instead to rural roads. The Suncoast Connector would be the only of the three roads to survive the Senate’s proposal.

The House had appeared cold to that proposal. Similar legislation (SB 1030/HB 763) filed by two Democrats, Sen. Tina Polsky and Rep. Ben Diamond, to scrap all three roads never moved in either chamber. Additionally, the Senate-approved bill never earned a House backer.

But Thursday afternoon, the House Appropriations Committee announced it would consider the measure, filed by Stuart Republican Sen. Gayle Harrell, during an 8:30 a.m. meeting on Friday. If the panel approves it, the bill will head to the House floor.

In that plan, the surviving Suncoast Connector would continue to Madison County.

On Thursday, after joking that Shoaf’s bill would make the Suncoast Connector “now truly be a road to nowhere,” Diamond suggested a complete repeal, like in his own bill, or letting other counties opt out of the proposal.

“We should extend that same courtesy to the residents of all the other counties that are going to be impacted by this project, which we all know did not come out of the FDOT work plan, did not come out of our transportation planners,” Diamond said.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


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