Oppose Suncoast Connector Toll Road
Submit Comments to Task Force
This Action Alert orignially asked FNPS members to attend a meeting of the Suncoast Connector Task Force that was scheduled for March 24 in Monticello. That meeting has been postponed indefinitely in reponse to Coronavirus concerns and directives for us all to self-isolate. While this eliminates the opportuinty to comment directly to members of the Task Force on the 24th, it doesn't preclude the submission of written comments via email to FDOT.Listens@dot.state.fl.us . Please take this opportunity to quickly and easily (and safely and conveniently) share your concerns about this destructive and unnecessary proposed toll road. Additional information and details are provided below:
If you aren’t familiar with the project, you can review the basics in a report we published in the Sabal minor (https://www.fnps.org/assets/pdf/sabalminor/issue_6_november_december_2019.pdf) or at the M-CORES website (https://floridamcores.com/suncoast-connector-task-force/). We have provided some possible talking points below. The impacts of a project like the Suncoast Connector M-CORES toll road would be so massive and broad in scope, they extend far beyond our FNPS mission to speak for native plant conservation. Since you cannot comment in person to the Task Force, comment by email to FDOT.Listens@dot.state.fl.us . Comment on something specific you care about. Public sentiment is against the roads based on comments expressed at previous meetings and it appears to be resonating with some Task Force members. Share your most serious concerns, and let them know if you live in the area and would be affected directly.
The Florida Native Plant Society is continuing to assess the potential impacts of the M-CORES projects on native plants and other sensitive natural resources. FDOT has released a map that identifies “avoidance areas” the road would not impact. You can download the map, and other documents describing the project, at https://floridamcores.com/event/suncoast-connector-task-force-meeting-4/#documents. If there is a natural area in the Study Area that is special to you, it may well be in the crosshairs of the future highway and the development it is intended to promote. A list of possible talking points is provided below. If you share our concerns, or have others of your own as a potentially affected resident, please share them with FDOT and the Task Force members.
Consider the following:
- More than 1 million acres of protected conservation land, and more than 300,000 acres of land in already-approved Florida Forever projects, is located in the Suncoast Connector Study Area, underscoring the immense conservation value of this region.
- Agriculture’s contribution to our economy is second only to tourism. The Suncoast Connector Study Area encompasses a huge swath of Florida’s agricultural land base, including commercial forests and ranchland that are indispensable to maintaining connectivity among existing conservation lands in the region. Some of those privately owned forests and ranches have been proposed for protection as approved Florida Forever projects and more than 50,000 acres are approved for protection as Rural and Family Lands Program projects,
- More than half of the 4 million acre Study Area consists of fire-dependent plant community or fire-maintained agricultural land. A major highway bisecting the length of the region would compromise huge investments in land conservation, and productivity in affected ranches, forests and cropland, by reducing the long-term ability to conduct essential prescribed burns. Imperiled species and natural communities, and economically valuable agricultural, could suffer to accommodate a road that does not satisfy any identified transportation need – even if they have already been “conserved’ through public investment.
- Claims that the roads would bring important infrastructure, like high speed internet, to isolated rural areas and help address hurricane evacuation needs are questionable. High speed internet and other utilities could be extended to rural areas without investing billions on unneeded roads, and Florida’s Department of Emergency Management prefers improved evacuation planning that would allow evacuees to remain close to home as a safer and more cost-effective solution than building new roads.
- The Florida Department of Transportation’s systematic approach to planning for our transportation future has not identified a need for these roads, which could cost more than $30 billion to build – not including right-of-way acquisition! Current data from the Turnpike Authority indicates toll receipts would not come anywhere close to covering debt service on the bonds required to finance a project of this scale. Which transportation projects already vetted on the basis of need and available funding will be shelved to free up funding for M-CORES roads? Which other pressing needs will go unaddressed? Siphoning billions from FDOT’s budget to study and build unnecessary toll roads would require painful – and unnecessary! - tradeoffs.
- Our utter dependence on roads and the internal combustion engine to meet most of our transportation needs requires a paradigm shift that recognizes the reality of climate change. We must invest in the infrastructure of the future. The transportation network of the future will be different, and a toll road like the Suncoast Connector would be antiquated before construction is even completed.
- FNPS has adopted a formal policy on the development of transportation infrastructure, and M-CORES does not meet the basic premise that new roads must be justified by a valid transportation need. See the full text of the policy, which may provide you with additional points to consider, at https://www.fnps.org/assets/pdf/pubs/policy_transportation.pdf.
Bottom line: moving forward with the M-CORES Suncoast Connector project would require the expenditure of billions on a toll road that would not meet any real transportation need in the name of promoting economic development. Millions of acres of natural greenspace and agricultural land are at risk. A project of this scale needs to be the subject of careful deliberation, yet even a cursory assessment raises profound doubts about the need for, and wisdom of, such a road. Submit comments to FDOT.Listens@dot.state.fl.us.