Florida, known for its beautiful beaches, natural wonders and vibrant tourist attractions, continues to grow rapidly.
In fact, more than 900 people move to the Sunshine State every day.
Such robust growth means we need to find smart multi-use ways to prepare for future neighborhoods and commercial areas where families and businesses can prosper while protecting our precious natural areas. To meet these increasing demands and to plan for growth 20-25 years into the future, it’s critical that our state invests in infrastructure initiatives. Our state leaders are doing just that – by embarking on what could be the most significant expansion of Florida’s transportation system since the inception of the interstate program in the 1950s.
The program, known as Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (M-CORES), could help further develop Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS), which includes trails, rail, utility development and on-demand options such as bike and car sharing.
Furthermore, M-CORES could help foster additional travel technologies including self-driving cars, connected vehicles and electric cars using charging stations as well as expand Wi-Fi or broadband connections, water and sewer services and more efficient and accessible hurricane evacuation routes.
Earlier this year, the Governor and Legislature came up with a visionary framework to promote these challenges. The program involves three proposed corridors that could help set the stage for Florida’s future:
- Suncoast Connector – 150 miles from Jefferson County to Citrus County
- Northern Turnpike Connector – 40 miles through Citrus, Levy and Sumter counties
- Southwest-Central Florida Connector – 140 miles from Polk County to Collier County
Last summer, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) kicked off a 13-month evaluation phase with task forces to develop guiding principles for M-CORES. The purpose of the program is to:
- Protect the environment and natural resources
- Improve regional transportation connectivity throughout Florida
- Create a robust multimodal transportation infrastructure, including other travel choices such as freight and passenger rail, public transit, and paved trails for hiking and biking
- Leverage technology to enhance the quality of life and public safety
- Revitalize rural communities, and,
- Encourage job creation.
Evaluating the three corridors involves gaining the valuable insights and perspectives from a broad cross section of the community. Each M-CORES corridor has a task force made up of subject matter experts from the Departments of Environmental Protection, Economic Opportunity, Education, Health, Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Agriculture and Consumer Services; the Florida Farm Bureau; the local water management districts; regional planning councils; colleges and universities; local governments; community members and environmental groups.
The task forces are conducting public meetings to discuss various program components and to develop guiding principles and recommendations regarding the potential economic and environmental impacts for their respective study area. Each task force will submit a final report to the Governor, President of the Senate, and Speaker of the House of Representatives by October 1, 2020. If the department finds that a corridor is economically and environmentally feasible, consistent with Florida law, it could move forward for further development.
FDOT urges public participation during the M-CORES planning process. Open houses and community presentations allow the public to learn about the program and provide comments. The goal is to work with diverse community members to determine successful transportation solutions for everyone and ensure the state’s infrastructure is best prepared for generations to come.
Kevin J. Thibault, P.E. is Secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation