1000 Friends of Florida Task Force Report Concerns
1000 Friends strongly opposed the M-CORES legislation proposed in 2019. But after the law passed, we accepted appointments to the task forces. We did it with hopes of using these positions to minimize potential harm to unique rural communities. We did it to try to protect critical environmental resources throughout the corridors, including rivers, springs, habitat for panthers and other wildlife and the Floridan Aquifer, the drinking water supply for millions of Floridians.
Ultimately, however, our Board and task force members decided unanimously not to support the final reports because they did not adequately address sprawl.
We are pleased that the reports incorporated 1000 Friends’ major recommendation to require that a preliminary determination of transportation need for the roads and their financial feasibility be undertaken before the costly PD&E process commences, which is when the actual corridors are required to be evaluated. We see this as a major win for the taxpayers and turnpike users of Florida who would be footing the bill for M-CORES.
Unfortunately, 1000 Friends’ other major recommendations were not included in the reports, which was the reason we ultimately did not support them. To limit sprawl, we recommended that all conservation lands within a 10-mile radius of each interchange and other lands within a 5-mile radius and not already designated for urbanized development be acquired, put under easement or otherwise protected BEFORE construction to curtail sprawl.
This did result in task force language calling for planning to protect conservation lands within a 10-mile radius of each interchange. Unfortunately, this fell far short of our goal not just to PLAN to protect lands but to in fact REQUIRE the protection of such lands. Our recommendation to protect rural communities by curtailing development at interchanges—to prevent pulling economic opportunities away from existing downtowns and other commercial centers—was not accepted. Instead there is a provision that FDOT is urged to work with local governments to develop an “interchange management process.”
Our belief is that with M-CORES being funded by state taxpayers and toll road users and impacting significant state resources—including the Floridan Aquifer (the source of drinking water for millions) and endangered wildlife habitat—the state should ensure the prevention of sprawl, protection of conservation lands, and economic health of existing communities.
We do believe the reports include positive provisions, including not finding a consensus that the roads are needed, prioritizing upgrading existing roads over building new roads through the countryside, directing FDOT to avoid routes through existing conservation lands, urging the Legislature to reconsider the required 2022 starting date for toll road construction, and more.
But the 2019 M-CORES legislation notes that, “To the maximum extent feasible, the department shall adhere to the recommendations of the task force created for each corridor….” This means that the recommendations from the task force are ultimately not binding. We urge Florida legislators to strengthen the positive positions in the reports by giving them the force of law, and adding requirements that would prevent the roads, if they are built, from fueling urban sprawl.