Public Policy

Stop the Toll Roads to Nowhere!

August 23, 2019

In May, we asked you to contact Governor DeSantis and urge him to veto Senate Bill 7068, which called for development of three major toll roads that will bisect the largest remaining expanses of rural Florida, invite sprawling development, and otherwise compromise any future ability to complete a functional network of conservation land. Despite widespread opposition to this proposal on the basis of many compelling arguments against them, the Governor did not veto the bill and the stage is now set for eventual construction of the toll roads – unless Floridians stand up to the powerful special interests behind them by expressing our strong and unequivocal opposition!

HOW YOU CAN HELP

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has established an email address to receive public comments on the so-called M-CORES project, short for Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance. These “corridors” would literally pave the way for destruction of some of Florida’s most significant remaining natural areas and agricultural land.

We’re asking you to submit an email to FDOT.Listens@dot.state.fl.us explaining your outrage over this proposal to spend billions of public dollars on the more aptly named “roads to nowhere” project that would wreak havoc on the environment, prevent or delay action on more pressing public needs, and enrich the influential voices that worked behind the scenes to convince our legislature and Governor to approve this self-serving boondoggle.

We have provided information below that underscores just how destructive these roads would be. The arguments against them are deep, and the justifications for them are shallow. Choose an argument or two that resonate with you on a personal level, write a short email explaining why you oppose M-CORES, and hit “send”. It is not important that you mention your membership in FNPS unless you wish to. We will continue to communicate the Society’s opposition on your behalf. At this stage, it is more important for Floridians to make it clear to the state agencies and private interests pushing these toll roads that we will not stand by passively while the future of our state is bargained away to the highest bidder.

FDOT has appointed three task forces, one for each of the proposed toll roads, and they will conduct their first meeting on August 27 in Tampa. Many of those appointed as task force members will not be impartial arbiters carefully weighing the pros and cons of the projects. The businesses and industries they represent stand to profit handsomely from construction of the roads and the spin-off development the roads would induce.

Future meetings will be conducted in the areas that will be directly impacted by the roads, and we will keep you informed about those meetings and continue to voice our opposition at every stage. You can see maps of the 3 “study areas”, which collectively encompass over 6 million acres, at http://floridamcores.com/#home ..

Consider the following when you compose your email:

  1. The springsheds of at least 13 of our 30 Outstanding Florida Springs lie within the Northern Turnpike Connector and Suncoast Connector areas. These two toll roads would bisect some of the highest groundwater recharge zones in Florida – a major reason those springs, already degraded by nutrient pollution and declining flows, would be put at even greater risk by the development the roads will spawn.

  2. More than 1 million acres of protected conservation land, and more than 1.4 million acres of land in already-approved Florida Forever projects, is located in the proposed corridors, underscoring the immense conservation value of these regions that include panther habitat in south Florida; rare scrub along the Lake Wales Ridge that is home to dozens of critically imperiled plant species; and the extensive forests of the Big Bend.

  3. Claims that the roads would bring important infrastructure, like high speed internet, to isolated rural areas and help speed up hurricane evacuation are invalid. High speed internet could be extended to those areas without investing billions on unneeded roads, and Florida’s Department of Emergency Management prefers improved evacuation planning that would allow evacuees to remain close to home as a safer and more cost-effective solution than building new roads.

  4. Agriculture’s contribution to our economy is second only to tourism. Collectively, the three corridor study areas encompass huge swaths of Florida’s agricultural land base, including the commercial forests of the Big Bend (more than 300,000 acres in Taylor County alone), the renowned thoroughbred horse ranches of Marion County, and the large cattle ranches of the Peace River and Kissimmee River valleys. The sprawl promoted by the toll roads would compromise the future viability of agriculture in those regions. Why trade valuable agricultural land, and the perpetual economic, environmental and national security benefits of viable large-scale agriculture, for costly and inefficient suburban sprawl?

  5. The Florida Department of Transportation’s systematic approach to planning for our transportation future has not identified a need for these roads. They coordinate with local governments to identify and solve our actual transportation needs in the most cost efficient way possible. Siphoning billions from FDOT’s budget to study and build these toll roads will only delay progress on real transportation needs and keep us mired in the outdated focus on roads as the solution to all our transportation problems. Enhancing the existing network of roads, and providing alternatives to the use of automobiles, should be the focus of our future transportation investments.

  6. FNPS has adopted a formal policy on the development of transportation infrastructure, and M-CORES is entirely inconsistent with the basic premise that new roads must be justified by a valid transportation need that would benefit the many, not to promote economic development to benefit the few. See the full text of the policy, which may provide you with additional speaking points, at https://www.fnps.org/assets/pdf/pubs/policy_transportation.pdf.

Make no mistake – the M-CORES project proposes we spend billions on toll roads that would not meet any real transportation need in the name of promoting economic development. The project would simply replace natural greenspace and agricultural land with suburban sprawl and increase our current challenges to protect water resources and conserve natural areas. Florida already has more miles of toll road than any other state – more than we need based on toll receipts for many of them - and FNPS strongly opposes the construction of an additional 300 miles of unnecessary toll roads through sparsely populated regions. We need to concentrate on conserving what is left rather than on promoting its development.

Please email FDOT right away at FDOT.Listens@dot.state.fl.us and tell them you oppose the construction of these unnecessary toll roads, which are nothing more than a generous gift to the developers, industries and landowners who stand to profit from them.

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Types of Issues Addressed by FNPS

  • General areas considered to be of statewide FNPS significance
  • Any Florida legislative action that affects our state environmental land acquisition program known as Florida Forever, which includes Florida Communities Trust and/or any other state agency funded through Florida Forever (DEP). This includes, but is not limited to, any legislation affecting funding of the program. It also includes the urgent need to fund the Florida Forever program.
  • All state and local land acquisition efforts for preservation and conservation.
  • Any statewide policy changes that enhance improve or further natural resource system protection within recognized preserves and/or reserve or state park refuge.
  • Development issues that are regional or have statewide significance in that they affect a change in Florida policy towards land acquisition, natural resource systems or waters of the state, but only if the issue clearly relates to the FNPS mission to preserve, conserve and restore native plants and native plant communities.
  • Any state legislative, state agency or state university action that would affect the viability (or lack thereof) of native plants and native plant communities. This includes, but is not limited to, state policy on exotic invasive species, water conservation, listed plant species, and cataloging of native plant communities.

General areas considered not to be of statewide significance include

  • Issues that are primarily related to managing the way a local jurisdiction grows or the methods it uses to plan growth. Unless it can be shown to meet criteria number four in the previous section.
  • Issues that are primarily transportation related unless the issue is of at least regional significance and would impact an established preserve/reserve/state park refuge/or a functional ecologically sensitive ecosystem.
  • Issues that involve local jurisdictional ordinances or land development codes.