Legislature May Pull the Plug on M-CORES

Extending or eliminating arbitrary deadlines will allow DOT to reprogram some of the proposal’s extraordinary funding to transportation projects with demonstrated need and feasibility.

Implementation of Florida’s 2019 proposal to build three new “M-CORES” turnpikes is not getting a lot of love from the 2021 Legislature. Fast-tracking the construction of 330 miles of new turnpikes through Florida’s most rural and environmentally sensitive areas was a pet project of former Senate President Galvano in 2019. However, legislatively created Task Forces in late 2020 returned damning evaluations of their need and financial feasibility.

This year,  new Senate President Wilton Simpson (R-Dade City) has said publicly that he is not a fan of the proposal. Further, as credible voices for fiscal restraint have pointed out, the cost to build this much roadway may be over $25 billion. That cost could divert funds from urgently needed highway improvements, particularly in urban areas.

Audubon worked with Sen. Tom Lee to create the task forces in the original 2019 legislation and later Audubon’s Dr. Paul Gray and Charles Lee were appointed to serve on them.  The Task Force recommendations are very strong, and would require road-builders to favor expanding existing roads rather than build new ones and avoid conservation lands and wildlife habitats. They even require DOT to develop and fund a plan to acquire for preservation Florida Forever projects not yet purchased by the state within a 10-mile radius of any project. The paths of these new roads would have opened large parts of remaining rural Florida to development, and potentially destroyed important conservation lands and wildlife habitats.

The M-CORES statute requires DOT to adhere to the Task Force recommendations, which have statutory weight, and are not just advisory.

The Task Forces called on the Legislature to re-visit the timeline for the M-CORES projects, pushing dates out substantially from the unrealistic December 2022 construction start date and 2030 completion date in current law.

Extending or eliminating arbitrary deadlines will allow DOT to reprogram some of the proposal’s extraordinary funding to transportation projects with demonstrated need and feasibility.

Audubon will also advocate for legislative direction that these Task Force recommendations should apply to any future proposals for these roads.

This is not the first time we have seen these road proposals, nor will it likely be the last. Road-builders and land speculators have advocated them for decades. If the M-CORES legislation is completely repealed, the strong  protections the Task Forces have required for conservation lands, wildlife, rural lands, and more would be lost.  

By amending the timeline but not rejecting the entirety of the M-CORES legislation, we can ensure that if these proposals are ever resurrected, so too will the Task Force evaluations and recommendations. New road proposals of this magnitude must always be gauged on their need, merit, and financial feasibility.

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