Saving Special Places • Building Better Communities
Protecting Florida’s Rural Lands
Updated January 11, 2023
While the M-CORES project has been terminated, we want to provide you with a brief overview on remaining segments:
- Northern Turnpike Extension — We are pleased to report that in December 2022, FDOT submitted its required report on the Northern Turnpike segment to the Governor and leaders of the House and Senate. The recommendations closely follow what 1000 Friends advocated from day one: make identified improvements to I-75 to alleviate major traffic concerns in the region; undertake a formal determination of need for the Northern Turnpike segment before moving forward; and place a far greater emphasis on protecting natural and cultural resources from impacts. Thank you for all that you have done to support this! More details are available here.
- Suncoast Corridor Extension — The Florida Department of Transportation is still required to upgrade and expand U.S. 19 from Citrus County to Interstate 10 in Madison County to provide for “free flowing traffic,” with no requirement for the Department to report back to the Legislature. Planning is underway for the first segment from Red Level to CR 347 South of Chiefland, with impacts on Citrus and Levy counties. In February 2021, the PD&E planning process commenced, with FDOT completing documentation for the Efficient Transportation Decision Making (ETDM) analysis in November 2022. It is anticipated that the PD&E process will conclude in the Spring of 2024. It is our understanding that the segments along U.S. 19, including this one, will not be tolled. At present, no funding has been planned for the remaining US 19 corridor studies. More information is available here, and you may provide your input to Ryan Asmus at FDOT. 1000 Friends maintains that a formal FDOT study of need and feasibility be undertaken for all segments of the Suncoast corridor, and that a high level of care be taken to protect significant natural and cultural resources that could be impacted.
Continue to check back and we will continue to provide updates and share how you can engage in the process.
M-CORES: An Overview
In 2019, despite major opposition from 1000 Friends and others, the Florida Legislature passed SB 7068 creating the Florida M-CORES project which authorized new toll roads extending 330 miles from the Panhandle to Collier County through some of the state’s finest remaining rural lands. 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:
- 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.
In 2021, with strong advocacy by 1000 Friends and others, the Florida Legislature passed SB 100, which repealed 2019’s M-CORES legislation and redirected 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. However, planning continued for the Suncoast and Northern Turnpike Extension corridors.
Major opposition continued, and in August of 2022 the Florida Department of Transportation announced it had formally suspended planning for the four alternative road corridors proposed for the Northern Turnpike Extension. But in November 2022 FDOT Secretary Perdue indicated that planning would move forward on this segment, with more attention to public input and community character, in conjunction with I-75 planning, and using the Wekiva Parkway as a model.
1000 Friends played a leading role throughout the process, opposing passage of the initial legislation, supporting later efforts to curtail the bill, participating in the planning process to shape a better outcome, and developing tools to inform citizens and engage them in the process. 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 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.
We continue to follow these projects closely. As major transportation projects never seem to completely die, 1000 Friends stands ready to support communities across Florida in better codifying their local visions for the future. This is what planning is all about.
This site includes numerous resources developed by 1000 Friends and others related to M-CORES but of relevance to other transportation and planning projects in the region. Below is a brief chronology.
2019 — Florida Legislature Passes SB 7068, establishing the Florida M-CORES project
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. Throughout the planning process, we continued to educate the public on how to provide input into M-CORES.
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.
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 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.
2021 — Florida Legislature Passes SB 100, repealing the 2019 legislation and redirecting its funding
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.
1000 Friends took a lead in these efforts to lessen the impacts of HB 7068 in 2021. The 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.
It is important to note that SB 100 still authorized:
- 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.
As a result, planning continued to move forward on projects in the Northern Turnpike and Suncoast segments. 1000 Friends continued 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.
2022 — FDOT formally suspends planning for the four alternative road corridors proposed for the Northern Turnpike Extension
On August 4, 2022, the Florida Department of Transportation announced it had formally suspended planning for the four alternative road corridors proposed for the Northern Turnpike Extension: “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.” 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.
2022 – 2023: FDOT plans for the first segment of the Suncoast Corridor Extension
Pursuant to 2021’s SB 100 and the resulting F.S. 339.67 U.S. 19 controlled access facilities, the Florida Department of Transportation is required to upgrade and expand U.S. 19 from Citrus County to Interstate 10 in Madison County, building on the proposed M-CORES Suncoast Corridor Extension. This segment will go through FDOT’s planning process, but there is no requirement for the Department to report back to the Legislature. Planning is moving forward on the first segment from Red Level to CR 347 South of Chiefland, with impacts on Citrus and Levy counties. In November 2022, FDOT completed the documentation for the required Efficient Transportation Decision Making (ETDM) analysis but has not yet commenced the public input component. 1000 Friends has considerable concerns about this proposal, and we urge you to visit our Suncoast page to find out more.
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.