M-CORES Planning Issues

Saving Special Places • Building Better Communities

1000 Friends of Florida recommendations regarding
high-level needs, guiding principles and implementation strategies for M-CORES

On July 20, 2020, 1000 Friends of Florida submitted the following to the FDOT M-CORES toll road task forces:

“On behalf of 1000 Friends of Florida, please find attached recommended language, following the format provided by FDOT at its last task force meetings, regarding high-level needs, guiding principles and implementation strategies for M-CORES.  We urge you to incorporate them in the documents you will be preparing this week at the M-CORES task force meetings.

The attached recommendations are based directly on the language in state statute that defines purpose and goals. We believe the implementation actions identified here are required to accomplish the statutory purpose and to achieve the goals set in the statute.

As reflected in these recommendations, we firmly believe that before hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on planning the three corridors, there first should be a formal determination of need and financial feasibility pursuant to state (and federal where applicable) guidelines.  Only if both need and feasibility are determined, should planning proceed for the applicable corridors.

We appreciate your consideration of these recommendations.”

Broadband, Economic Development and M-CORES

On June 2, 2020, 1000 Friends of Florida issued the following statement:

Many of the counties and communities in the M-CORES corridor face serious economic challenges that need to be addressed.  Insufficient broadband services is but one example.  Swaths of the rural lands in the proposed M-CORES corridor are not adequately serviced with broadband, leading to significant short- and long-term economic implications.

Now more than ever people are using broadband to conduct their professional and personal business remotely.  A significant number of Floridians have been working from home, using video-conferencing applications to connect with co-workers, family and friends; attending school online; taking advantage of telemedicine; and using other online platforms.

In the short-term, some rural residents’ ability to maintain social distancing requirements while continuing to work or participate in online schooling has been severely compromised.  In the long-term, the residents and businesses of rural areas of Florida — and not just those within the M-CORES corridor — will continue to fall behind in economic, education and other indices if broadband connectivity is not significantly enhanced in the near future. 

Successful and sustainable 21st century rural economic development is not contingent on building roads to attract new rooftops or manufacturing plants.  Instead the provision of broadband allows residents who want to choose a rural lifestyle to participate in the global economy.   And in turn, this rural lifestyle allows greater protection of natural lands that store and cleanse drinking water for millions of Floridians, and agricultural lands that serve as a backbone of Florida’s economy.

It is not necessary to build roads to provide broadband.  In fact, tying the provision of broadband to road construction is likely to delay its availability considerably as, notwithstanding the ambitious timeline outlined in the M-CORES legislation, it will take years for the roads to move from the planning to construction phase.  This is particularly troublesome given the current pandemic and increased need to conduct more business and schooling online.

Instead, the State of Florida should explore opportunities to speed up the provision of broadband independent of road construction.  This includes allowing broadband lines along existing highways and public utility lines to serve rural areas of Florida by creating “smart hubs” in rural communities.  State-of-the-art broadband could be provided first to public buildings including city halls, libraries, schools and other facilities which then could serve as “trunks” to extend broadband to residences and business locations in the communities.  This would speed up considerably the timeline on providing broadband along with its economic development benefits.

In the aftermath of COVID-19 it is likely that significantly more Floridians will choose to work from home, online education opportunities will expand, and telemedicine and other online services will proliferate.   If communities in the M-CORES corridors (and indeed other rural parts of the state) are not allowed to participate in this new reality as soon as possible, the economic disparities will only worsen. 

At least one thing is clear:  Workers and others with broadband access do not need to be tethered to a specific locationThis allows people in even the most remote communities to participate in the global economy.  It’s time to uncouple the provision of broadband from road construction to choose a more sustainable and economically strengthened economy for rural communities in the 21st century. Uncoupling broadband from road construction is an opportunity to choose a more sustainable and prosperous future for all of Florida.

Improving and sustaining the economy of Florida’s rural areas requires broadband service immediately; it does not require new highways. 

1000 Friends of Florida Identifies Concerns with the M-CORES Planning Process;  Asks FDOT to Add Issue to Upcoming Task Force Meeting Agendas

On Tuesday, January 14, 2020, 1000 Friends of Florida sent a letter to the Florida Department of Transportation regarding concerns associated with the M-CORES planning process. These relate to numerous requirements in Senate Bill 7068 and sections 338.223 and 339.135, Florida Statutes, applicable to planning for and evaluating the M-CORES corridors.

“Provisions in state law clearly indicate that, among other things, the Task Forces are charged with identifying the need for, economic impacts of, and economic feasibility of their respective M-CORES corridors,” notes Tim Jackson, a transportation planner and long-time member of 1000 Friends’ Board of Directors. “It is imperative that these and other issues be added to the agenda for the next meeting of each of the three task forces to allow time to identify the data needed and timeline to make informed recommendations.” FDOT staff have agreed to meet in late January to discuss these concerns.

M-Cores Label

The letter also includes legal requirements and recommendations related to environmental impacts and feasibility, land use and hurricane evacuation impacts, appropriate federal, state and local review and consistency, and alternatives analysis, including a no build option. The letter concludes with the recommendation that each Task Force be allowed to submit at least one minority report in the event that consensus is not achieved among the task force members.
M-CORES legislation (SB 7068) passed during the 2019 Session, with the requirement that construction start on three tolled roads linking Collier County to the Florida Panhandle by December 31, 2022. Explains 1000 Friends Communications Director Vivian Young, “Given the level of federal, state and local review needed for transportation projects, this is an unrealistic timeline for a major undertaking of this scope.”

SB 7068 also required that a Task Force be established for each corridor, including representation by conservation groups. Task Force appointments include Board Member Andrew Dickman for the Southwest Florida Connector from Collier to Polk County, President Paul Owens for the Northern Turnpike Connector linking the northern terminus of the Florida Turnpike to the Suncoast Connector, and former Policy Director Thomas Hawkins for the Suncoast Connector from Citrus County to the Panhandle. FDOT began conducting these meetings in August of 2019.

“With the Task Forces due to submit their reports to the Governor and Legislature on October 1 of this year, time is of the essence to ensure that all legal requirements are met,” says Tim.