The Department of Transportation continues to blunder forward in its headlong plan to needlessly uproot much of rural Florida, bringing sprawl and millions more people to Florida and spending billions of dollars. Throughout the process, the DOT has had a strong bias towards building this fiasco, presenting it has a done deal from the very beginning.
Attendance at this meeting was way down to around 100; previous virtual meetings had around 160- 170 peak attendance.
Meeting number eight of the Suncoast Connector began with a flawed and inadequate overview of previous public comments. Employee Will Watts reported that about 12,500 public comments had been received, but as before, when describing them, he blatantly neglected to give the number of those opposed and those supporting.
We know, of course, that opposition far outweighs support from the public, and the verbal public comments at all the meetings have been almost totally opposed. Watts mentioned that of the total number received, about 2,500 had been original letters and about 10,000 were form letters.
At this point Task Force member and Citrus County Commissioner Scott Carnahan chirped in saying he discounted form letters because they were not original, so to his thinking the ten thousand mean nothing.
Your historian, first to offer public comments, countered Carnahan saying he was not serving his constituents who reached out to him by sending a letter. Sending an opposing form letter is the same as sending a letter saying “no build.” Citrus County deserves better representation than what Mr. Carnahan is providing.
Happily, other speakers echoed our opinion, including Teri Bridge, Citrus County resident Shirley McCullough and Neil Fleckenstein.
The following article was written before meeting number 8 took place, but it gives a fine analysis of the sad situation.
Unfortunately, the Gainesville Sun gives no link to this article.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum
Toll road panels still lack answers
Some on task forces say highways not needed
USA TODAY NETWORK – Florida Capital Bureau
More than a year after convening, the three toll road task forces charged by the Florida Legislature to evaluate and make recommendations on the state’s most ambitious public works project in decades still have no answers to fundamental questions.
No demonstration of need. No final route selected. No cost estimate. No feasibility study to show if it will even pay for itself.
“The biggest takeaway is this is a project of hundreds of millions of dollars, and no demonstrated need for the roads. And we can’t guarantee the roads will pay for themselves,” said Lindsay Cross, government relations director for Florida Conservation Voters.
Florida Conservation Voters is part of a consortium of environmental and civic groups called “No Road to Nowhere” that includes several task force members. They want the Florida Department of Transportation to recommend that the state not build the roadways, calling them wasteful boondoggles pushed through by term-limited GOP Senate President Bill Galvano as his pet project before leaving the Legislature.
They’ve also demanded that one of the guiding principles be to include a demonstration of need and a feasibility study.
That’s largely because the legislation that created the Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (MCORES) upended the established procedure used by the Department of Transportation for decades before placing road projects into its work schedule.
“It’s critical to keep in mind that the proposed M-CORES projects are still in the very early pre-planning stages and task forces are still determining needs and guiding principles for each proposed corridor,” DOT spokeswoman Beth Frady said.
The work developed by each task force will be used to guide economic and environmental feasibility studies as well, she added. “Because this is still in the pre-planning stages, this also means that no land acquisition expenditures have occurred,” Frady said.
Leon County Commissioner Kristin Dozier, a member of the Capital Region Transportation Planning Agency who also sits on the task force for the Suncoast Parkway toll road, said the DOT is working in reverse.
“For a lot of us sitting on the task force we feel like we should have looked at the transportation needs in general, and all of these other aspirational targets, broadband, workforce, things like that… and then looked for solutions. I don’t question the long-term planning but I question the suggestion that a toll road is needed before we go through this exercise.”
Dozier also questioned the impact that the M-CORES project would have on other needed roadway projects and said the timeline for the project is too aggressive, particularly in light of COVID.
“We should push the Legislature and the governor to change how this statute is working so we have more time to go through this planning and make sure the need is there,” Dozier said. “We don’t want to do a bunch of planning and have it sit on the shelf for 10 years because we don’t have the money. It would be a wasted effort.”
The Legislature insisted that DOT first create three task forces made up of engineers, environmentalists, community leaders and business people, and hold meetings and community meetings to take public input and hammer out guidelines for each section.
The task forces for the Suncoast Parkway, Northwest Turnpike Connector and the Southwest Central Corridor scheduled meetings this week to put finishing touches on their draft reports and guiding principles to submit to Gov. Ron De-Santis and the Legislature by Nov. 15.
Each task force is responsible for evaluating a section of the project:
The Suncoast group is evaluating a 150-mile stretch from Citrus County through Jefferson County to the Georgia line.
The Northwest corridor group is looking at a 40-mile connector between the Suncoast Parkway and the northernmost point of the Florida’s Turnpike in Wildwood.
The Southwest group is looking at 140-mile highway from Polk to Collier County, similar to the scuttled Heartland Parkway project.
They’ve all been meeting since last August and each has two more community
meetings and a final meeting in October before finalizing their reports.
The task forces were not created to give a final recommendation to build or not to build, officials said, but to reach a consensus on guiding principles, instructions and action plans that will guide the DOT’s next steps:
Phase II, also known as the Alternative Corridor Evaluation, or ACE, in which the state’s transportation engineers will look at the need and conduct a feasibility study.
A planning, design and engineering (PD& E) phase to nail down the specific alignment, or where the road will actually go.
Throughout that process, the DOT will determine the best possible option, even if that option is “no build.” And “no build” remains an option, officials have assured.
The work during those phases will need to be accelerated because the legislation creating M-CORES requires construction to start by the end of 2022 and be open to traffic eight years later.
Money, however, remains a mystery. That’s especially disconcerting to critics who point out the $5.4 billion in lost revenue from COVID-19 over the next two years.
They also pointed out the millions of dollars worth of environmental and water quality projects vetoed by DeSantis, who couldn’t touch M-CORES money because of the way it’s written into state statutes.
“In light of these significant challenges, … M-CORES should be stopped,” said Sahid Knight, CEO of the Florida Policy Institute. The billions that would go to building the toll roads should be used to preserve public services instead, he added.
“At a time when our state is facing an unprecedented budget deficit, state lawmakers should be looking at ways to raise revenue and find savings in programs, like M-CORES, that are not going to provide a positive return on our investment,” Knight said.
It’s not the first time Florida officials have entertained building superhighways through these sections of Florida. Sections of the M-CORES project have been floated, failed and resurrected several times over the last two decades but ultimately stalled or killed by Govs. Charlie Crist and Rick Scott as economically unfeasible….
Contact Jeff Schweers at [email protected].