Florida legislature partially repeals M-CORES toll projects
May 5, 2021
By a nearly unanimous decision, the Florida legislature partially repealed M-CORES, a controversial project that would have installed toll roads on three corridors in the Sunshine State.
On April 27, the Florida House passed SB100 with a 115-0 vote. The bill repeals parts of Florida Statute 338.2278, which enacts the Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance program, more commonly known as M-CORES. In March, the Senate passed the bill 39-1, with Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, being the lone vote against. The bill now sits on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk awaiting his signature.
However, the bill does not completely eliminate the three corridor projects. M-CORES established toll roads on the following corridors:
- Suncoast Connector, extending from Citrus County to Jefferson County.
- Northern Turnpike Connector, extending from the northern terminus of the Florida Turnpike northwest to the Suncoast Parkway.
- Southwest-Central Florida Connector, extending from Collier County to Polk County.
The Suncoast connector extends the Florida Turnpike, and the Northern Turnpike connector extends the Suncoast Parkway toll road. The Southwest-Central connecter calls for building a new toll road. SB100 gets rid of the Southwest-Central connector. However, the legislature found that the extension of the Florida Turnpike from its northerly terminus “to a logical and appropriate terminus” as determined by the Florida Department of Transportation is in the “strategic interest of the state.”
Therefore, the remaining two connectors will continue to move forward. The Suncoast Connector has been modified. That road will use U.S. 19 and connect to Interstate 10 in Madison County rather than Jefferson County.
Additionally, the $35 million set aside for M-CORES has been reallocated. Specifically, that money will be used for specific purposes and recurring for 30 years.
Some opponents of M-CORES consider the partial repeal a win while others believe it is not enough.
In a tweet, Florida Conservation Voters, a group protecting the waters and conservation lands, thanked its supporters:
Thanks to thousands of Conservation Voters and advocates across the state, M-CORES has been repealed. We still have work to do to make sure that Florida grows responsibly and sustainably, but this proves that when we work together, good things happen. pic.twitter.com/GFbg0Z4Su1
— Florida Conservation Voters (@FCVoters) April 27, 2021
Conversely, No Roads to Ruin, a group organized specifically to stop M-CORES, said the bill moves the state in the wrong direction.
“The No Roads to Ruin Steering Committee did not support SB100 because the bill did not stop all of the roads at the heart of M-CORES,” the group said in a statement. “SB100 moves our state in the wrong direction and leaves North Florida’s rural communities and natural resources at risk. Florida needs a 21st century transportation policy that takes us away from new roads through environmentally sensitive areas and towards sustainable transportation alternatives. As such, with two of three toll road threats remaining, we cannot proclaim that its passage and expected signing by the governor as a triumph.”
The gutting of the program comes after two years of fierce opposition from affected residents, environmental groups and some local officials.
The project was part of SB7068, which was signed into law in May 2019. Gaining broad support at the time, all but one senator voted for the bill, including Cruz. Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Miami, voted against the bill. Initially, the bill failed in the House with a 44-70 vote. After some amendments, the House eventually moved it to the governor’s desk with a 76-36 vote.
SB7068 instructs the Florida Department of Transportation to have a task force for each corridor submit a report to the governor. In November, the task forces submitted their final M-CORES report to DeSantis. All three reports found that there was no specific need for the toll roads sending a major blow to supporters. LL