Environmental concerns dominate toll road discussions

Florida's toll roads task forces met for the first time at the Tampa Convention Center on Tuesday to discuss a major project that will expand three of the state's transportation corridors.

The project is called the Multi-Use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance, or M-CORES, and Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Kevin Thibault was on hand to begin determining how and where the new toll roads will be built.

"It's exciting to be able to have the groups together to really focus on how we can handle the future of Florida," Thibault said.

Lawmakers approved M-CORES legislation earlier this year and Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law in May. Three task forces are currently studying where to construct toll road connectors to the Suncoast Parkway, along with others in the northern and southwest-central regions of Florida.

Transportation leaders believe the new corridors will have immediate impacts by easing road congestion and improving hurricane evacuation routes. Thibault also says there will be additional benefits, including the extension of broadband service.

"This is signed into law, so as it stands now, it's gonna happen. That's really what we want," Thibault said. "How do we do that? How do we leverage this really innovative right of way development? We can add to protected lands."

Environmentalists demonstrated outside the convention center during the FDOT conference. At one point, they carried a coffin across the road and blocked Franklin Street until police made them disperse.

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"It's extremely concerning. They're going to rip through a lot of the remaining wildlife in Florida which has already been heavily developed already," said James LaMont with Extinction Rebellion Tampa Bay. "We have this faux democratic process where these people are getting together and deciding just what kind of destruction it is that we want."

FDOT planners are hoping to address concerns by including environmentalists in the planning process.

Construction is expected to begin by the end of 2022.

LINK: Visit www.floridamcores.com to learn more about the project, submit a public comment, and watch the meeting.