The pace has slowed for Florida’s big central toll road project during the coronavirus pandemic.

Three large citizen task forces have stopped face-to-face meetings. Instead, the Florida Department of Transportation has been offering webinars. The next webinar is from 9:30 a.m.-noon Wednesday. No agenda has been posted. The June 11 webinar was on development of broadband communications.

Called M-CORES for Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance, the project was approved by a narrow majority last year in the state legislature. The goal is to bring prosperity to the state’s rural regions with the road, with improved broadband communications and other utilities. The road would run from near Naples to near the border with Georgia. The corridor could use existing roads by adding toll lanes as outer lanes, FDOT engineers have said.

Charlotte County Commissioners Christopher Constance and Ken Doherty are among the 47 members of the Southwest-Central task force. Constance advised the board earlier this month that the webinars are useful, but he looks forward to being able to speak more directly to FDOT’s Region 1 Director L.K. Namdam, task force chair.

“There’s still no real movement other than informational,” Constance said at a meeting this month.

Constance has said he supports the project as a way to encourage growth away from the state’s crowded coastal areas subject to the most flooding and storm hazards.

The webinars allow both public and task force member input, according to FDOT spokesman Zachary Burch. Task force members must signal electronically to be recognized by the chair. Public input requires that citizens register a day ahead to comment. They are then allowed three minutes. Online comments are still an option, however, the state does not release those comments for public review.

Picking locations for the 350-mile road has not yet begun, Burch said. Task forces have been identifying areas where resources, both cultural and environmental, should be protected.

The three task forces have an extra month now to submit their reports to Gov. Ron DeSantis. The new deadline is Nov. 15.

Legislators who favored the project set deadlines of Dec. 31, 2022 for construction to start, and July 1, 2030 for the highway to open.

Opponents of the project object to different issues ranging from taxpayer expense to environmental damage to disrupting Florida’s rural way of life. Others say it will benefit only landowners who get to sell to the state.

Proponents include local officials who hope for new jobs and new investment in their region.


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