A massive multi-million dollar infrastructure project facing both a growing chorus of angry voices and a tight budget year, found itself an easy target for the chopping block in the Florida Senate.
Late last week the Florida Senate approved a bill that does away with much of a controversial toll-road plan, called the Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (M-CORES).
Approved by the Florida legislature in 2019, M-CORES called for building a toll road from Collier County to Polk County, extending Florida’s Turnpike to connect with the Suncoast Parkway, and extending the Suncoast Parkway toll road from Citrus County to Jefferson County.
Plans to build these tolls roads through rural areas in the middle and northern part of the state drew public outcry from community leaders who said the roads were not needed or wanted and would cause environmental harm.
While the bill does not completely terminate the project, it does scale it back significantly.
Senate Bill 100, sponsored by Senate Transportation Chairwoman Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart) would eliminate the road between Collier and Polk counties, extend the turnpike west from Wildwood to the Suncoast Parkway and develop a plan that would extend the Suncoast Parkway north utilizing the existing route of U.S. 19 and ultimately connecting to Interstate 10 in Madison County. The bill also includes non-tolled alternatives for local traffic along U.S. 19 and would allow property owners impacted by the roads at least one access point for each mile of land owned.
“The pandemic has really required that we reevaluate things,” Harrell said. “And one of the things that I really believe that is both a policy and a budget issue is M-CORES.”
An amendment to the bill, offered by Senator Randolph Bracy (D-Ocoee), added language from a task force review of the project which, according to Bracy, “protect not just the environment, but also our farmlands, rural and minority communities.”
Two bills, Senate Bill 1030 and House Bill 763, would completely repeal M-CORES, but have not yet been heard in the Senate or House.