M-CORES: An Overview
Saving Special Places • Building Better Communities
Impacting Rural Lands
JUNE 25, 2021 UPDATE: SB 100 was signed into law on June 25, 2021, repealing 2019’s M-CORES legislation. 1000 Friends is in the process of reviewing and updating this section of the website to reflect the most current information so be aware that some information is now outdated. As you may know, 1000 Friends was a strong and early leader in the effort to address the many shortcomings in the 2019 M-CORES Legislation. It is very unusual for the Legislature to undertake such a turn-around on major legislation of this nature. We also thank each and every one of you who weighed in on M-CORES and helped precipitate this significant U-turn.
STATEMENT BY 1000 FRIENDS OF FLORIDA PRESIDENT PAUL OWENS ON SB 100: We’re glad Governor DeSantis has chosen 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. This is still a major highway construction bill, and we’ll be closely monitoring the projects it authorizes to protect the environment and prevent urban sprawl development. But Florida is better off now that M-CORES is in the rear-view mirror.
BACKGROUND: During the 2019 Florida Legislative Session, 1000 Friends of Florida advocated strongly against the 330-mile corridor of toll roads proposed to extend from Collier County to the Florida Panhandle and known as M-CORES. With passage of the legislation, 1000 Friends accepted representation on the three task forces to help draft guidelines for each segment. These reports, released and submitted to Gov. DeSantis and the Florida Legislature on November 12, 2020, are available here. On January 11, 2021, 1000 Friends released a series of M-CORES recommendations for the 2021 Florida Legislative Session.
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. The recommendations do not do enough to stop the toll roads, if they are built, from fueling low-density residential and commercial development — urban sprawl — that would ruin this unspoiled part of Florida. For that reason, 1000 Friends did not support the reports. See 1000 Friends’ letter to FDOT, Paul Owens’ Op Ed in the Orlando Sentinel, and our statement of concern for more information.
On October 23, 2020, 1000 Friends of Florida sent a letter to Secretary Kevin Thibault to let him know that 1000 Friends of Florida does not support the three M-CORES reports finalized by their respective task forces. As you know, 1000 Friends had a representative on each of the three task forces to provide input into the three toll road corridors extending from the Panhandle to the Everglades.
Ultimately, however, we believe the task force reports failed to include strong measures that would prevent the three toll roads from fueling urban sprawl — sprawl that would do irreparable harm to fragile natural resources and vulnerable rural communities.
Each of our task force representatives proposed a requirement that FDOT protect all conservation land from development within 10 miles of proposed interchanges before construction, and also protect from development any land within 5 miles of a proposed interchange before construction unless it is served by public water and sewer or designated as an industrial job center. These proposals were not adopted.
The measures in the task force reports aimed at protecting the environment create a land acquisition process with laudable intentions, but they fall short of the necessary requirements to ensure that protection, and to earn our support. We do appreciate that our recommendations that a preliminary determination of transportation need and financial feasibility for each of the corridors prior to the PD&E process were adopted by each of the three task forces to ensure greater accountability in the process.
1000 Friends vows to remain engaged in monitoring M-CORES and the process over the coming months and years.
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 authorizes 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 believe building new highways in the designated corridors will 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 believe 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 continue 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, media coverage, webinars and more. We update this page regularly to provide you with the latest information so please check back.
Check out recent Op Eds by 1000 Friends of Florida Board Members and staff on 1000 Friends’ recent Op Eds page
M-CORES will divert more than $100 million per year from the state General Revenue Fund for planning, design and initial construction of the three corridors, which are “tolled facilities and approved turnpike projects that are part of the turnpike system and are considered as Strategic Intermodal System facilities.” The bill also authorizes 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 is 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 include 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. So what is next for M-CORES? 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 provide an update on what’s 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 provide 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 focuses 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)
July 1, 2019
The “M-CORES” Act takes effect
August 1, 2019
The Secretary of FDOT shall appoint the members of the three corridor task forces
November 15, 2020
Each task force shall submit its final report to the Governor, the President of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives (due to COVID-19 the deadline was extended from the previous deadline of October 2020).
December 31, 2022
To the maximum extent feasible, construction of the projects shall start no later than this date
December 31, 2023
Each affected local government with an interchange within its jurisdiction shall review the applicable task force report to determine whether its local comprehensive plan should be amended “to provide appropriate land uses and natural resources protections”
July 1, 2030
The corridors shall be open to traffic no later than this date