By BETSY CALVERT
A rural toll road through the state’s undeveloped interior is back on the agenda.
Charlotte and DeSoto counties have a seat at the table for a project with a long name: Multi-Use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance or M-CORES.
Three commissioners from these two counties are among 125 officials and advocates expected to attend the first task force meetings on Aug. 27 at the convention center in Tampa.
Called Billionaires Boulevard by critics, the proposed north-south toll road squeaked by the Florida legislature earlier this year and was quietly signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis on May 17.
State Senate President Bill Galvano described the project earlier this summer. “These new infrastructure corridors will help Florida strategically plan for future population growth, revitalize rural communities, and enhance public safety, while at the same time protecting Florida’s unique natural resources and habitats,” he said.
DeSantis said: “I think we need new roads in Florida to get around.”
But there are also critics.
“It is the worst bill for Florida’s environment we have seen in more than 20 years,” the Sierra Club told the Palm Beach Post.
How will Charlotte and DeSoto counties be affected?
The Florida Department of Transportation did not return requests for information from the Sun last week, however, the department has posted previous work on this project, that has been under debate for years.
In 2007, FDOT conducted a study and concluded an interior connector toll road would not make enough in tolls to pay for itself. The report notes that the state could pay for it in other ways, if it chose to.
That earlier project would have started in Lee County and ended in Polk or Osceola counties. The current proposal is for a highway that would begin farther south in Collier County and end farther north and west at the Georgia border, east of Tallahassee. In 2007, the proposed route included the southeastern corner of Charlotte County and Babcock Ranch Preserve. For DeSoto County, it could have run through the northeastern agricultural corner. Neither county was expected to have an interchange in 2007.
The Charlotte County commission picked its chairman, Ken Doherty, to represent the county. Another Charlotte County commissioner, Christopher Constance, will also be on the task force, as chairman of the Metropolitan Planning Organization.
In DeSoto, Commissioner Elton Langford is listed as the representative.
MPO Director Gary Harrell told the Sun he believes the project could easily affect traffic on existing roadways in Charlotte County. In fact, the MPO will have need to reconsider its Long Range Transportation Plan with this giant project in mind. It will be tricky, he said, because the county’s long term plan is due to the state about the time the M-CORES task force presents its first findings.
DeSoto and Charlotte counties are part of the southern third of this project, called Southwest-Central Florida Connector. The middle section is called Northern Turnpike Connector and the northern section is called Suncoast Connector. Task forces for each of the three sections will meet separately all day at the Tampa convention in August.
To start the project, legislation includes funding of $45 million starting this year and $90 million for next year. The goal is for the start of construction by the end of 2022 and for completion by the end of 2030.