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FDOT held a New Toll Road Community Open House in Trenton

By Cindy Jo Ayers
Gilchrist County Woman’s Club building was the latest and last Community Open House planned by Florida M-CORES (Florida Department of Transportation). The meeting was held to share information about the building of the Suncoast Corridor. The first Community Open House for the large toll road was held on October of 2019 in Old Town. Since that time the meetings have been held in Lafayette, Levy, Citrus, Jefferson, Dixie, Madison, Citrus and Gilchrist Counties. Each meeting gave the same information to the public with a few modifications. At this time there is no new information about the location of the Suncoast Corridor.
These meetings were held to receive public comment, discuss revisions to the final draft which will be submitted by the Task Force to the Governor and Legislature on November 15, 2020.
This report will include the Task Force Final Report which as the draft is written now states, “The Task Force did not reach a conclusion based on the information available at this time that there is a specific need for a completely new greenfield corridor through the study area to achieve the statutory purpose. The Task Force expressed a preference for improvement or expansion of existing major highway corridors or existing major linear utility corridors. The Task Force acknowledged the process for FDOT to consider a “no build” alternative in future project development activities until a final recommendation about each specific project is made. The Task Force also recommended guiding principles, instructions, and a action plan as a set of directions to FDOT and other partners for future planning, project development, and implementation activities related to the M-CORES Program.” The Task Force will meet again on October 20, so they may change the Final Report before it goes to the Governor’s desk.
The task force report is just the first part of the development process. Step 2, will include the planning and corridor evaluation. Step 3, will be the project development and design phase (this should be the phase where the route of the road is disclosed) and step 4 will be the acquiring of all the right-of-ways. When residents and business owners will be notified that their property is in the project right-of-way. Step 5 will be the construction which should be finished by 2030, according to Senate bill 7068.
Some tax watching organizations have questioned the spending of between $4 billion and $10.5 billion to build the Suncoast Connector. Some believe further analysis of the costs, benefits and practicality of the toll road should be done, since the state is facing unprecedented revenue shortfall because of COVID-19. The toll road revenue in South Florida was down 50% in the month of April. Toll roads in Florida have been money makers for the state paying off the cost of building the road and putting money into the state treasury.
During the Open House in Trenton several of the members of the MCORES team were asked what the road would be like? Would it be similar to the Veterans Expressway out of Tampa when completed? Their answer was that it has not been determined at this time. The design of the Suncoast Corridor toll road will be released to the public during a later phase of the project.