M-CORES Was Repealed, But A Northern Turnpike Proposal Still Lives

M-CORES may have been repealed, but Senate Bill 100 left the door open for future turnpike extensions.

In 2021, the Florida Legislature passed Senate Bill 100 to repeal the 2019 M-CORES toll road mandate that ordered the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to begin construction on three new turnpikes in 2023.

During the consideration of the initial M-CORES legislation, Audubon advocated for an amendment requiring the formation and input of Task Forces for each of the three prospective turnpikes. 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 huge cost of these new roads could have drained Florida’s transportation funds away from locations where road improvements are truly needed.

 Audubon’s Paul Gray, Ph.D., Everglades Science Coordinator, served on the Central-Southwest Corridor Task Force, and Charles Lee, Director of Advocacy, served on task forces for the Northern Turnpike and Suncoast extensions.

In its repeal of the M-CORES turnpikes, Senate Bill 100 (SB 100) did not stop FDOT’s ordinary process of evaluating possible future road proposals. The last section of SB 100 asked FDOT to commence a study (but with no turnpike building construction mandate) of a possible extension of the Florida Turnpike from its current terminus in Wildwood. FDOT must present a report to the Legislature and the Governor by December 31, 2022.  The study is completely open-ended, and unlike M-CORES, the study requested does not even designate a specific destination for a turnpike extension; it merely asks FDOT to explore the possibility of extending the turnpike to “a logical and appropriate terminus.”

Audubon anticipated that such a study may lead to an ill-advised future road project, and advocated for additional protections in the bill. As a result, SB 100 requires the agency to apply the recommendations of the M-CORES Task Forces to the new study.

The Task Forces' recommendations strongly support expanding existing roads rather than building new turnpikes, as well as insist that conservation lands and other important environmental assets be avoided. The Task Force recommendations also say that FDOT should respect local governments' land use plans when studying any future toll road.  The Legislature then amplified the Task Force recommendations by writing one of them – avoidance of conservation lands – directly into the paragraph authorizing the new study.

Still, concerning road projects remain. Additional public meetings and hearings will take place in the summer of 2022 and into the fall or winter months. There are multiple opportunities to weigh in!

So far, more than 1,500 people turned out at FDOT “Kickoff Meetings” held in Levy and Citrus Counties on December 7 and 9, 2021.  Almost all of the public input stated strong opposition to any new road corridors through these areas.  In addition, the County Commission in Levy County and the City Council in the City of Dunnellon have formally adopted statements of opposition to any new turnpike through their respective areas, and are sending these statements to FDOT, Governor Ron DeSantis, and the Legislature.

The Marion County Commission will consider making a statement in opposition to Turnpike routes through Marion County at its regular County Commission meeting on December 21st. Those concerned about the Turnpike Extension should contact Marion County Commissioners and urge them to take action to oppose corridors in their county. Click here to offer your comments directly to the commissioners.

To learn about the proposal, and provide comments to FDOT, click here.

To see specific high resolution maps of corridors under study, and the possible impacts of those corridors, go to this web page, where you can explore GIS-based overlays of conservation lands, future land use maps, features such as important species habitats, springs, wetlands, and water bodies, or the relationship of any proposed corridor to specific addresses.

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