Read our No-Build on M-CORES letter to the Governor and Task Forces
Governor Ron DeSantis
Executive Office of the Governor
400 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, Florida 32399
SUBJECT: Please Consider a No-Build Option for Proposed M-CORES Toll Roads
Dear Governor DeSantis:
The task forces assigned to assist FDOT in planning for the Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (M-CORES) toll roads project have nearly completed their reports. Despite their diligence and attention to detail over the past year, none of the three task forces has been able to confirm a need for the roads despite evaluation of need being part of their charge as stated in Section 338.2278 (3) (c) 4, F.S.
On behalf of the 4,300 members of the Florida Native Plant Society (FNPS), we submit that the absence of any finding of need reflects, quite simply, an actual absence of need and recommend that you embrace a no-build option to the Florida legislature during the upcoming session. Each of the three task forces expressed a preference for improving or expanding existing highway corridors or existing linear utility corridors, rather than developing entirely new corridors. We consider their preference for co-location as additional testimony to the absence of any compelling transportation need for the proposed toll roads.
FNPS served as an active contributor to the task force process by submitting information on potential environmental impacts, participating in several of the panel discussions, and providing comments at the conclusion of nearly every task force meeting. We can attest to a high level of engagement by the members of the task forces, and to the responsiveness of FDOT staff who administered the meetings and navigated the process as outlined by the enabling legislation. We do not take exception to the work or commitment of the task forces, but rather to the underlying imprudence of transportation planning by legislative fiat. Why the urgency to undertake such a massive project through legislation that dictates beginning construction by the end of 2022, rather than allowing FDOT’s existing process set by the Legislature, supported by rigorous analysis and intergovernmental coordination, to proceed transparently and free of political influence?
Given the absence of an established transportation need for these roads, the many transportation projects that have already been vetted and planned and are awaiting funding, and the many other pressing needs we face while recovering from a pandemic-induced recession – why should we focus our attentions and resources on pushing for the construction of roads that meet no transportation need?
It is appropriate that the task force reports focus to a large extent on establishing guiding principles intended to minimize environmental impacts in the event the roads are constructed. Consider that 32 percent of the Southwest-Central Connector Study Area has been protected through the public investments in land conservation, with much of the remaining land area, including extensive ranchlands, identified as high priorities for protection through Florida Forever and Rural and Family Lands conservation easements. The region is known to be essential to the future survival of the Florida panther.
The Suncoast Connector Study Area features our greatest concentration of Outstanding Florida Springs, many of which are already degraded, and is the heart of our silvicultural industry. About 40 percent of the Northern Turnpike Connector Study Area has merited protection through public investment, 35 percent has been designated as critical linkages in the Florida Ecological Greenways Network, and road construction would require additional disruption of the Cross Florida Greenway. Those are just a few broad-brush descriptors that allude to the tremendous significance of these areas to Florida’s environmental future. The range of likely environmental impacts is immense and unavoidable if any of these roads are constructed. The proposed highways would simply replace natural green space and productive agricultural lands with suburban sprawl, and exacerbate our current challenges to protect water resources and conserve wildlife habitat.
Another major focus of the task force reports is guiding principles intended to maximize the social and economic benefits to affected local governments. Virtually all of those presumed benefits, including the provision of important infrastructure, could be realized more quickly and inexpensively through direct investment and state assistance. Spending $10-30 billion on toll roads is not a prerequisite to the provision of broadband in the rural communities that lack it. Improved hurricane evacuation has been posed as an additional benefit; however, the massive traffic jams experienced during past evacuations are less a product of deficiency in highway capacity than in safe alternatives for sheltering locally. Resolving those deficiencies and devising other strategies that would make it possible for evacuees to remain closer to home would be a more efficient and far less expensive strategy for reducing evacuation times than spending billions on unnecessary highways.
The Florida Native Plant Society supports your efforts to address our environmental challenges, protect our natural heritage and lead us to recovery from the pandemic-related upheaval to our economy. M-CORES is a threat to all-of-the-above and we are confident that once you review the information compiled since this process began, you will agree that M-CORES is both unnecessary and unaffordable.
We strongly encourage you to exert your leadership with the Florida legislature to reverse course on this expensive, unnecessary project and continue to let need and affordability drive future road construction decision-making. Thank you for considering our concerns.
Bonnie Basham Eugene M. Kelly
President of the Florida Native Plant Society Chair of Policy and Legislation
Senator Wilton Simpson, President Designate of the Florida Senate
Representative Chris Sprowls, Speaker Designate of the Florida House
Kevin J. Thibault, Secretary, Florida Department of Transportation
Southwest-Central Connector Task Force Members
Suncoast Connector Task Force Members
Northern Turnpike Connector Task Force Members