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 yesterday and submitted to Gov. DeSantis and the Florida Legislature, are available here.

Despite strong advocacy by 1000 Friends’ representatives during the task force meetings, our representatives and 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 below for more information.

We wish to commend all of the members of each of the three task forces who worked diligently for more than a year to craft the recommendations, FDOT staff who managed a major planning process under considerable constraints, and citizens like you who participated in the process and provided meaningful input.  We also extend a special thanks to 1000 Friends’ task force representatives—former Policy and Planning Director Thomas Hawkins for the Suncoast Connector, President Paul Owens for the Northern Turnpike and Board Member Andrew Dickman for the Southwest-Central Florida Connector—for their active engagement for more than a year. 

Now that the task reports are complete, we urge you to remain engaged in the process. We hope you will attend 1000 Friends’ free December 8 webinar, M-CORES: What’s Next? Speakers include FDOT Chief Planner Huiwei Shen, Florida TaxWatch Vice President of Research Kurt Wenner, and 1000 Friends’ task force representatives, President Paul Owens and former Policy and Planning Director Thomas Hawkins. 

You may also visit 1000 Friends' M-CORES webpage to access all of our resources.

Please stay engaged! You can make a difference.

With best wishes,

Vivian Young, AICP
Communications Director
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.