A four-county board consisting of elected officials from Leon, Gadsden, Wakulla, and Jefferson voted to send a message to state lawmakers supporting ongoing efforts to repeal legislation on the Suncoast Connector toll road that set a start date in 2022 and allocated tax dollars to the controversial project.
The Suncoast Connector toll road project is part of the larger Florida Department of Transportation’s (FDOT) Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (M-CORES) Program.
The Capital Regional Transportation Planning Agency (CRTPA), a Metropolitan Planning Organization created by federal law to ensure cooperation in regional transportation planning, on Tuesday voted to write legislative committee leaders expressing their will to nix the legislation that expedited this multi-billion-dollar project outside the usual regional planning process.
Efforts are underway at the state capitol to stop the M-CORES program. At the beginning of February Senator Tina Polsky (D-District 29) filed Senate Bill (SB) 1030, which would repeal M-CORES and return budgeted revenue back into the state’s general revenue fund.
The program began in 2019 when Governor Ron DeSantis signed SB 7068, legislation that includes three proposed corridors in the state of Florida: the Suncoast Connector, extending from Citrus County to Jefferson County; the Northern Turnpike Connector, extending from the northern terminus of Florida’s Turnpike northwest to the Suncoast Parkway; and, the Southwest-Central Florida Connector, extending from Collier County to Polk County.
The purpose of the program, according to the M-CORES webpage, was “to revitalize rural communities, encourage job creation and provide regional connectivity while leveraging technology, enhancing the quality of life and public safety, and protecting the environment and natural resources.”
The three proposed regional corridors were intended to Improve congestion, hurricane evacuation, trade, and logistics. Other benefits included increasing broadband and other utility connections and laying the groundwork for a greater autonomous vehicle network.
But the proposed projects have elicited public outcry from those concerned about the environmental impacts, its irregular planning process and the effects the toll roads would have on rural communities. Many local leaders and residents simply said the project was not needed.
CRTPA Chair Jeremy Matlow, Mayor Pro Tem of the City of Tallahassee, said, “When you live here, you realize how ridiculous this whole project is. The commuters, taxpayers and watchdogs of our region have been telling us that there’s no need for this questionable, highly politicized toll road project.”
Jefferson County had previously voted 4-1 to reject the project entirely, supporting a “no-build” scenario, which Commissioner Betsy Barfield upheld on her CRTPA vote as the county’s representative.
In the CRTPA’s letter to state legislators, the board called for the following:
● Legislation removing the timeline and rolling back its set funding schedule, effectively repealing previous legislation that set these benchmarks,
● Working instead within FDOT’s typical process in a five-year work plan to assess the needs of this corridor, and
● Using the guiding principles of the M-CORES Suncoast Connecter Task Force and public data to inform decisions going forward to improve infrastructure and economic development in the future.
To date, no significant action has taken place in the Florida Legislature to advance SB 1030 or its companion House Bill 763.