By Laura Cassels/Florida Phoenix
Two of three massive highway projects approved by the 2019 Florida Legislature are dead – including one that would have plowed through the habitat of critically endangered Florida Panthers. The third, a 130-mile project along scenic U.S. 19, will live on.
Gov. Ron DeSantis late Thursday signed into law a 2021 bill repealing the Multi-Use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance, or MCORES, projects, which would have spanned 330 miles with tolled highways through swaths of rural Florida. MCORES was a pet project of former Senate President Bill Galvano, a Republican who represented Manatee and part of Hillsborough counties.
Environmentalists and leaders of communities that would be affected by the projects panned them, and Galvano’s successor, Senate President Wilton Simpson, signaled early in the 2021 legislative session that he supported repealing them. The remaining project, along U.S. 19, will traverse his Senate district.
Newly signed Senate Bill 100, sponsored by Senate Transportation Chair Gayle Harrell, a Republican who represents parts of Martin, St. Lucie, and Palm Beach counties still authorize 130 miles of new construction and upgrades along U.S. 19 from Citrus County to I-10, as well as a northwesterly extension of the Florida Turnpike beyond its terminus at Wildwood.
The repealer bill kills a Southwest-Central Florida MCORES highway project that would have run through Florida Panther habitat, a project condemned early by TaxWatch as a boondoggle that would be unable to pay for itself with toll revenues. It also abolishes the Northern Turnpike Connector that would have run through rural areas of central Florida pocked with delicate natural springs and waterways.
Technically, the repealer also abolishes the Suncoast Connector highway project through north Florida but it largely replaces it with instructions for another, authorized to include toll features and overpasses to accommodate more north-south traffic and relieve congestion on I-75.
The Republican-controlled Legislature had Democrat-sponsored bills at hand that would have entirely repealed the three MCORES projects, but those were not granted hearings.
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