Saving Special Places • Building Better Communities
Protecting Florida’s Rural Lands
FDOT FORMALLY SUSPENDS PLANNING FOR PROPOSED NORTHERN TURNPIKE EXTENSION CORRIDORS
August 4, 2022 — 1000 Friends of Florida is pleased to share that the Florida Department of Transportation has formally suspended planning for the four alternative road corridors proposed for the Northern Turnpike Extension. These corridors would have cut through some of Florida’s finest agricultural lands, wildlife habitat, and vulnerable springsheds in Citrus, Levy, Marion and Sumter counties. See 1000 Friends’ alert here.
A release dated August 4, 2022 announces, “The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has completed the Alternative Corridors Evaluation (ACE) Study for the Northern Turnpike Corridor without recommending a specific corridor and will not pursue the project any further until options can be reassessed to address concerns of the Department and the community.”
“Credit rests with the many local residents and elected officials who clearly understand the many negative impacts of the proposed Turnpike Extension — and associated sprawling development — on their rural economies, water quality, environment and quality of life,” explains 1000 Friends of Florida Communications Director Vivian Young, who has led the organization’s advocacy on this issue since proposals first surfaced in 2019.
Credit also goes to the advocacy groups that make up the No Roads to Ruin Coalition. “Thanks to their leadership, residents were empowered to take a firm stand for their right to play a major role in planning for their communities’ futures,” says Young. She notes that, as major transportation projects never seem to completely die, “1000 Friends stands ready to support these and other communities across Florida in better codifying their local visions for the future. This is what planning is all about.”
The Northern Turnpike Extension is a remnant of the 2019 Legislature’s ill-fated M-CORES (Multi-Use Corridor of Regional Economic Significance) project to create a 330-mile toll road network from Collier County to the Panhandle. 1000 Friends engaged throughout the process, advocating that expansion of the I-75 Corridor was a more effective, less expensive and less damaging way to address transportation needs.
Among other things, 1000 Friends served on the task forces for each of the three initial M-CORES segments — the Northern Turnpike, Suncoast and Southwest-Central connectors — but refused to endorse the final reports. We also developed robust webpages (at www.1000fof.org/mcores) with links to our special reports, maps and other resources to promote active citizen engagement. 1000 Friends helped persuade the Legislature to curtail planning and funding for M-CORES in 2021, but scaled-back versions of the Northern Turnpike and Suncoast connectors remained.
Currently, 1000 Friends of Florida intern Meghan Gilmore, Policy and Planning Director Jane West and Outreach Director Haley Busch are partnering with Community of Royal activist Beverly Steele to offer planning guidance to this historic rural African-American community in Sumter County. All four proposed corridors for the Northern Turnpike Extension would have bisected Royal. “We look forward to continuing to work with Beverly Steele and other community advocates across Florida to promote sound planning,” says Young.
M-CORES: An Overview
In 2019, the Florida Legislature passed SB 7068 creating the Florida M-CORES project which authorized three new toll roads extending 330 miles from the Panhandle to Collier County through some of the state’s finest remaining rural lands:
- The Suncoast Connector Corridor was planned to extend 150 miles from Jefferson to Citrus County with the planning process impacting eight predominantly rural counties: Citrus, Dixie, Gilchrist, Jefferson, Lafayette, Levy, Madison, and Taylor.
- The Northern Turnpike Connector was to extend southeast from the Suncoast Connector to the northern terminus of the Florida Turnpike. This planning area encompassed Citrus, Levy, Marion and Sumter Counties.
- The Southwest-Central Connector was proposed to extend 140 miles from Polk County south to Collier County. The planning area encompassed nine counties: Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Highlands, Lee and Polk Counties.
But during the 2021 Florida Legislative Session, with strong advocacy by 1000 Friends and others, SB 100 on M-CORES passed, repealing 2019’s M-CORES legislation and redirecting its funding. Because of this, planning and construction for a 330-mile-long integrated system of new toll roads came to a halt. If SB 100 had not passed, construction on these corridors would have begun by the end of 2022. It is important to note that SB 100 still authorizes:
- Upgrading and expanding U.S. 19 from Citrus County to Interstate 10 in Madison County
- Planning a northern extension of the Florida Turnpike, with route to be determined, to be presented to the Legislature in 2022
- Expanding other highways in rural areas, with priority for routes with high truck traffic
1000 Friends also successfully advocated that SB 100 be amended to reference the three task force reports, developed over a 15-month period with tremendous input from citizens, 1000 Friends and others, to better protect environmental resources and vulnerable communities in the three planning corridors. Despite the scaling back through SB 100, projects are still likely to have a significant impact on communities, agriculture, water conservation, and natural resources along their respective corridors.
Now that planning is under way on projects in the Northern Turnpike and Suncoast segments, we remain vigilant to work with you to protect environmental and community assets that could be damaged by projects still authorized under SB 100. Once the second-phase PD&E reports advance, 1000 Friends intends to weigh in with positions, recommendations, and advocacy. Find out more about the process in 1000 Friends’ 2022 Transportation Policy, Planning and Implementation in Florida special report.
We continue to support the findings of the 2016 I-75 Relief Study which identified the top priority of “optimization and transformation of I-75 through a long-term buildout plan to meet future statewide and regional mobility needs” rather than the construction of new highways.
We anticipate increased advocacy on the part of 1000 Friends in the coming months and anticipate that M-CORES 2.0 will be a hot topic for the 2023 Florida Legislature. Active engagement remains critical, and we urge you contact your Florida Representative and Senator now to express any concerns.
1000 Friends of Florida Advocacy
1000 Friends of Florida was early and strong in our opposition to Florida’s 2019’s M-CORES legislation and, when it was enacted, advocated for sound planning throughout the M-CORES process. We accepted representation on the three task forces to help draft guidelines for each segment. Despite strong advocacy by 1000 Friends’ representatives during the task force meetings, the representatives and our Board of Directors unanimously found the final recommendations falling short of the mandate in the 2019 law to protect the environment and revitalize rural communities. For that reason, 1000 Friends did not support the reports.
We then turned to advocacy during the 2021 session, taking a lead in the effort to lessen the impacts of this massive proposal. The 2021 SB 100 compromise was achieved during an extremely challenging and partisan session with no political chance of an outright repeal. It is very unusual for the Legislature to undertake such a turn-around on major legislation of this nature. We’re pleased Governor DeSantis chose to sign Senate Bill 100, which repeals and replaces the unsustainable plan to build the 330-mile M-CORES network of toll roads through some of the most sensitive natural lands left in Florida. We thank SB 100 sponsor Senator Gayle Harrell for drafting a bill that largely restores the planning process and its requirement to establish environmental and fiscal feasibility before highway construction begins. We also thank Senator Randolph Bracy for making sure protections for the environment and vulnerable communities proposed by the M-CORES citizen task forces are included in SB 100.
Transportation Policy, Planning and Implementation in Florida
2021 SB 100 Repealing M-CORES (but still authorizing some roads)
1000 Friends of Florida 2021 Legislative Recommendations (1000 Friends of Florida, January 12, 2021)
1000 Friends of Florida M-CORES Webinar Broadcast & PowerPoint (1000 Friends of Florida, December 11, 2020)
M-CORES Task Force Final Reports (FDOT, November 12, 2020)
1000 Friends of Florida announcement on release of M-CORES report (1000 Friends of Florida, November 13, 2020)
1000 Friends President Paul Owens’ Op Ed on the Task Force Reports (Orlando Sentinel, November 13, 2020)
Letter to FDOT Secretary Thibault indicating that 1000 Friends of Florida does not support final task force reports (1000 Friends of Florida, October 23, 2020)
Letter to FDOT Secretary Thibault outlining grave concerns with M-CORES task force reports (1000 Friends of Florida, October 8, 2020)
M-CORES: A Detour Around Accountability (1000 Friends of Florida and Sierra Club Florida Chapter)
PD & E Recommendations (1000 Friends of Florida)
Broadband, Economic Development and M-CORES (1000 Friends of Florida)
Suncoast Corridor Citizen Primer (1000 Friends of Florida)
The Suncoast Connector: What we still need to know (Florida TaxWatch)
Vulnerability of the Suncoast Connector Study Area (University of Florida)
Northern Turnpike Corridor:
Northern Turnpike Citizen Primer (1000 Friends of Florida)
Potential Impacts of the Southwest Central Florida Connector on the Florida Panther and Its Habitat (The Nature Conservancy)
The Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance Program, or M-CORES, was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis on May 17, 2019. M-CORES authorized the design and construction of three new tolled road corridors through rural Florida:
• Suncoast Connector extending from Jefferson County to Citrus County
• Northern Turnpike Connector extending from the Suncoast Connector south to the Florida Turnpike northwest
• Southwest-Central Florida Connector extending from Polk County to Collier County; a previous highway planned for the route was called the Heartland Parkway
During the 2019 Florida Legislative Session, 1000 Friends of Florida opposed the bill that authorized the M-CORES program, Senate Bill 7068, because we believed building new highways in the designated corridors would put at risk rural communities, vulnerable lands and waters, and wildlife – not just from the highways, but also from the sprawl they would generate. We also believed there are higher priorities for investing limited dollars to meet Florida’s most pressing transportation needs.
But once SB 7068 passed, 1000 Friends accepted appointments to each of the three task forces created by the bill to offer input on the design and planning of the highways from positions of influence, raise any concerns about the process, and try to minimize or eliminate the impacts from the proposed roads on some of Florida’s best remaining rural lands. We declined to endorse the final task force reports, however, finding them not sufficient to adequately plan for the corridors.
Throughout the planning process, we continued to educate the public on how to provide input into M-CORES. See the information below on additional resources provided by 1000 Friends of Florida, including Citizen Primers, Natural Resources Maps, webinars, op eds and more.
M-CORES would have diverted more than $100 million per year from the state General Revenue Fund for planning, design and initial construction of the three corridors, which were to be “tolled facilities and approved turnpike projects that are part of the turnpike system and are considered as Strategic Intermodal System facilities.” The bill also authorized the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT or “the department”) to borrow billions of additional dollars from turnpike revenue bonds, public private partnerships and myriad other sources to complete construction.
The stated objective was to “advance the construction of regional corridors that are intended to accommodate multiple modes of transportation and multiple types of infrastructure.” Goals outlined in the legislation included to address hurricane evacuation, congestion mitigation, trade and logistics, broadband, water and sewer connectivity, energy distribution, autonomous and other vehicle technology, mobility as a service, availability of trained workforce, protection or enhancement of wildlife corridors or environmentally sensitive areas, and protection or enhancement of primary springs protection zones and farmland preservation areas designated within local comprehensive plans.
M-CORES: What’s Next?
On November 12, 2020, the Florida Department of Transportation submitted the final M-CORES task force reports to Gov. DeSantis and the Florida Legislature. During this webinar, FDOT Assistant Secretary for Strategic Development Brad Thoburn and Chief Planner Huiwei Shen, Florida TaxWatch President Dominic Calabro and Vice President of Research Kurt Wenner, and 1000 Friends of Florida President (and Northern Turnpike task force representative) Paul Owens and former Policy & Planning Director (and Suncoast task force representative) Thomas Hawkins provided an update on what was ahead in terms of the planning process, financial analysis and citizen participation.
Covering All the Bases: Effective Engagement in the M-CORES Process
SB 7068 was signed into law in 2019, authorizing the construction of three new tolled roadways through close to 350 miles of some of Florida’s best natural and agricultural lands. In this webinar, presenters provided an overview of M-CORES and transportation planning in Florida, as well as shortcomings in the M-CORES process and strategies for effective engagement.
M-CORES (The Heartland and Suncoast Expressways): Policy and Planning Implications for Florida’s Future
SB 7068 was passed during the 2019 Legislative Session and signed into law. It created M-CORES, or the “multi-use corridors of regional economic significance program” to be implemented by the Florida Department of Transportation. Conducted prior to the passage of the legislation, this webinar focused on SB 7068’s implications for state transportation policy, regional planning, and land and habitat conservation.
Also see these and other op eds at 1000 Friends’ op ed page
Opinion–Paul Owens: Three new toll roads across the state? No thanks (Sun-Sentinel, January 21, 2021)
Opinion–Paul Owens: Toll-road plans fall short on wildlife protection, urban sprawl (Orlando Sentinel, November 13, 2020)
Opinion– Vivian Young: Plan for the future — Let’s stop legislature’s new toll roads (Orlando Sentinel, July 16, 2020)
Opinion–Vivian Young: Put the brakes on M-CORES toll roads (Chiefland Citizen, July 16, 2020)
Opinion–Tim Jackson: Planned M-CORES highways solve problem that isn’t there (Orlando Sentinel, April 30, 2020)
Opinion–Susan Trevarthen: With COVID-19-related budget cuts looming, Florida should kill budget-busting road projects
(Sun-Sentinel, April 3, 2020)
Opinion–Lee Constantine: M-CORES expressway planners must think green (Orlando Sentinel, 1/23/20)
Opinion–Vicki Tschinkel: Florida’s three proposed toll roads cut through precious natural land (Tampa Bay Times, 1/12/19)
Opinion–Tim Jackson: Miami-Dade commuters’ tolls will pay for North Florida roads they won’t use (Miami Herald, 12/12/19)
Opinion–Paul Owens: Veto this $10 billion ‘boondoggle’ highway bill, Gov. DeSantis (South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 5/2/19)
Commentary—Paul Owens: 1000 Friends: Galvano’s highway plans will bring environmental ruin (Orlando Sentinel, 4/24/19)
Opinion–Thomas Hawkins: Toll expressways plan threatens north central Florida (Gainesville Sun, 4/2/19)
Opinion–Thomas Hawkins: New toll expressways a boondoggle, not boon (Tampa Bay Times, 3/19/19)