A final report on a highly controversial toll road plan is now being sent to the governor's office, a release stated on Thursday.
M-Cores would consist of three toll road projects throughout the state of Florida, including one in parts of Citrus County and another in Polk County.
The M-Cores Task Force has been reviewing these plans for the past 15 months.
The Suncoast Connector would connect Citrus and Jefferson Counties. In the final report, the group states, "Due to the early stage of planning for this corridor and the limited data and analysis on potential needs for and impacts available at this time, the Task Force was not able to fully address its charge of evaluating the needs for and impacts of the Suncoast Corridor."
The group looked at numerous impacts the toll roads could have on the community, including travel impacts and the environment. In Citrus County alone, there's a 20% prediction of population growth by 2045.
- What's next for the Florida panther: From COVID-19 to new toll roads and beyond
- State task force to begin researching three new toll roads covering 300 miles of Florida
- Coalition gathers strength to fight Florida's proposed toll roads
"As one of the more rural areas of the state, the study area has limited infrastructure and lower levels of adequate broadband Internet access, sewer and water service and transit than the rest of the state. In addition, all the counties have limited access to fresh food (within half a mile) and significantly lower access to healthcare (hospitals and physicians) than the rest of the state. Dixie, Gilchrist, Jefferson, and Lafayette Counties do not have any hospital facilities, and all of the counties (except for Citrus) have fewer than 10 licensed physicians," the report says.
"Four of these deficiencies affect the quality of life for residents in the study area and limit the ability to attract new residents and businesses. Future vision and land use plans for the counties in the study area generally focus on the need to protect and enhance the environment and quality of life for residents while providing economic opportunity and growth in an environmentally and economically sustainable manner."
The Task Force was able to identify some "high-level needs" for this project. Mainly, revitalizing some of the more rural communities in the area and protecting the environment.
- FDOT preliminary traffic analysis indicates that projected state and regional population and economic growth (based on forecasts developed prior to COVID-19) could produce congestion along portions of I-75, US 41, SR 44, SR 200, and SR 121 by the year 2050. The Task Force recommended further refinement of these traffic projections, including evaluation of whether potential improvements to or development of a new or enhanced inland corridor would relieve future traffic on I-75, as well as whether traffic on the Suncoast Corridor would be impacted by the completion of the Northern Turnpike Corridor.
- The Task Force reviewed multiple data sources and maps and discussed the unique characteristics of the region’s environment and natural resources, including aquifer recharge areas, major watersheds, springs, rivers, farmlands, wildlife habitats, native plants and ecosystems within the study area.
- The Task Force recommended guiding principles and instructions that the corridor safely accommodates and enhances multiple modes of transportation (pedestrian, bicycle, transit and rail) and that strategies and technology be explored to reduce incidents and improve response.
- You can read the full 70-page report by clicking here.
The Southwest-Central Florida Connector would begin in Collier County and head north to Polk County.
"The Task Force did not reach a conclusion based on the information available at this time that there is a specific need for a completely new greenfield corridor or modifications of existing facilities through the study area to achieve the statutory purpose. Project-level needs will be evaluated consistent with the Task Force’s recommendations," as stated in the report.
In this case, in Polk County the projected growth from 2019 to 2045 is almost 28% and in Highlands County nearly 11%.
- The Task Force pointed specifically, in this area, the high traffic crash rates. They say, "The Task Force recommended that FDOT evaluate how specific transportation corridor improvements could support safety and mobility opportunities in the region."
- The truck traffic on key roadways in the inland portion of the study area ranges from 19% to 31% of the total traffic. The growth of nationwide e-commerce has increased by 13% to 16% annually over the past five years, and this trend is expected to increase, thereby contributing to additional cargo tonnage to be transported. The Task Force recommended FDOT evaluate opportunities to improve infrastructure connections between communities and regional roadway networks and support the expansion of rural utility infrastructure, including broadband, water and sewer by encouraging the co-location of utility lines. This will enhance the quality of life for rural and underserved areas. The Task Force recommended that FDOT evaluate how the M-CORES Program could help improve infrastructure in rural and underserved areas
- However, stronger storms and emergency events increase pressure for evacuation, increase recovery challenges, and put additional pressure on major north-south routes like I-75. Other factors related to COVID-19 and social distancing practices may reduce sheltering capacities and may reduce the likelihood the public will choose shelters during emergencies. The Task Force recommended FDOT evaluate how specific multi-use transportation corridor improvements would help strengthen mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery efforts in the region.
- You can read the entire 71-page report by clicking here.
The Audubon Florida which was widely opposed to these toll roads, says, “The Task Forces have protected Florida’s natural areas and rural lands from what could have been a disaster. In effect, the Task Force recommendations have directed DOT to use rigorous criteria in considering any road expansions, declared that there is not any immediate need for these corridors, and rejected the rush to build projects that seemed to fuel the original 2019 Legislation.”