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Legislature Passes M-CORES Toll Road Repeal Bill

published on: April 27, 2021

SB100 passed the Senate and House on April 27. This bill repeals the M-CORES toll roads program but prioritizes new road construction, including an extension of the Florida Turnpike.  Thousands of Conservation Voters and Floridians around the state spoke against these destructive M-CORES toll roads. Thank you!

It’s been a long road. Since the passage of SB7068 in 2019, the Florida Conservation Voters has been fighting against the horrendous M-CORES toll roads program. With the passage of SB100, we exit this road and refuel for the next battle. 

The bill that created M-CORES passed swiftly through the legislature in 2019, with only one committee stop in the House. It was clearly a politically driven boondoggle that would benefit wealthy landowners and political donors, allowing for unneeded roads and sprawling new developments in Florida’s rural communities. FCV quickly mobilized, speaking at a press conference in St. Petersburg and joining more than 100 organizations in demanding a veto. Unfortunately, Governor Ron DeSantis ignored these pleas and signed the bill into law, setting up the potential for up to 330 new miles of toll roads through our state’s best remaining natural and agricultural areas. 

FCV collaborated to form the No Roads to Ruin coalition and, as a steering committee member, brought together 112 organizations and businesses to oppose the roads to ruin. The steering committee has worked to mobilize thousands of Floridians to submit comments against the horrific toll roads and engage with their local leaders to pass county ‘no build’ resolutions. Together, we have raised the toll road issue in local, state, and national media outlets, presenting the massive public outcry that we heard in the capital and in communities. 

Speaking on behalf of Conservation Voters, I personally attended – either virtually or in person – nearly all of the 30+ task force meetings and webinars. During my public testimony, I shared how the M-CORES toll roads are bad for water, wildlife, rural communities, and taxpayers. I also kept members like you informed by hosting informal Toll Road Updates on our social media channels. Your passion for our land and water and diligence in stopping the roads to ruin was evident, and the momentum of this movement guided our advocacy efforts. Hundreds of Floridians provided public testimony at task force meetings and thousands more submitted written comments to FDOT and task force members demanding a “No Build” option and protection of our environment and fiscal resources.

When the task force reports were submitted, it was clear that the construction of the full M-CORES program was unpopular, with significant environmental and financial concerns stated in the three reports. The evolving COVID-19 pandemic further illustrated that our state could not afford to spend more than $25 billion on unwanted and unneeded roads, while Floridians struggled with unemployment, housing insecurity, and public health concerns.

As the 2021 Legislative Session began, FCV turned its focus to repealing the program and returning the $132 million annual allocation to our state budget. FCV enthusiastically supported HB763/SB1030, sponsored by Representative Ben Diamond (D-St. Petersburg) and Senator Tina Polsky (D- Boca Raton), that aimed to fully repeal the M-CORES program and return the money to General Revenue. During a virtual press conference announcing the bills, Levy County farmer Scott Osteen talked about how the new toll roads could destroy his family farm and local community. While neither bill received a single committee hearing, opposition to the M-CORES program grew as legislators on both sides of the aisle expressed concern about the fiscal, environmental, and community impacts. SB100, sponsored by Senate Transportation Chair Gayle Harrell (R-Stuart) included a repeal of the M-CORES program but retained M-CORES funding for the state Transportation Trust Fund. It moved quickly through the Senate where it received only one nay vote on the floor. The House subsequently approved the bill with a unanimous vote on April 27, 2021. 

SB100 puts the Southwest-Central connector toll road to rest, a toll road that would have sliced through prime Florida panther habitat and the Florida Everglades. SB 100 also has less aggressive timelines than M-CORES which mandated a 2022 construction initiation date and ultimate completion of up to 330 new miles of toll roads by 2030. SB100, however, does include three new transportation priorities. It designates $20 million annually to expand rural roads with heavy truck traffic. It prioritizes road upgrades along US-19, including the use of controlled access lanes (aka toll roads) to achieve “free flowing” traffic between Citrus and Madison counties. And it mandates that the Florida Department of Transportation complete the first phase of a new turnpike extension from Wildwood to an undisclosed location by December 31, 2022. Due to the uncertainty regarding the extent of road upgrades or where new toll roads will go, it is unknown which natural areas and local communities will be impacted. However, the footprint of the turnpike extension is likely to be within the Northern Turnpike connector study area, encompassing Marion, Sumter, Citrus, and Levy counties. This area contains 200 springs and approximately 40% is in conservation which means that the threat is not over. 

FCV appreciates the tireless efforts of thousands of Conservation Voters and Floridians that have demanded an end to the M-CORES toll roads program. While not perfect, SB100 is an improvement over the full M-CORES program. 

FCV will continue to advocate for the protection of natural areas, support for affected communities, fiscal prudence with our taxpayer dollars, and meaningful public participation in the planning process as FDOT implements the elements of SB100. 

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