Florida House set to vote on partial repeal of massive toll road expansion

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A plan to nix the massive toll road expansion known as M-CORES is finally moving in the Florida House.

The legislation, cleared by its one and only House committee stop Friday, is expected to save the state millions while still alleviating traffic along US 19.

Gov. Ron DeSantis on the other hand seems uninterested in the Senate’s proposed revamped roads project, which would undo much of the M-CORES plan passed two years ago.

“Obviously I put my John Hancock initially, so I obviously supported it,” said DeSantis in a March press conference.

But nevertheless, it’s passed the Senate and is moving forward in the House.

“Seeing some of the revenue that the department has not gotten over the last year because of people not paying gas taxes, we want to make sure that we have the dollars to spend on the existing infrastructure we have in place,” said House sponsor Jayer Williamson.

It cancels two major M-CORES highway projects and remaps a third, extending the Suncoast Parkway up through Madison County to alleviate traffic on US-19.

“We consider this a partial repeal of M-CORES,” said Lindsay Cross with the Florida Conservation Voters.

Cross does say the new plan is more environmentally friendly than the current M-CORES project.

“It takes the southwest central corridor completely off the table. And that’s the corridor that would have gone from the Naples area up to Lakeland and would go through prime Florida Panther habitat and some of the Everglades,” said Cross. “So we’re happy to see that that area will be safe at least in the short term.”

One of the benefits of the new plan is that is focuses on widening and improving existing roadways, instead of building new roads through environmentally sensitive areas.

But it also calls for an extension of the turnpike, left up to DOT’s discretion.

With the route to be determined, environmental concerns persist.

“That’s what’s difficult, is that we don’t really know what we’re getting in this bill,” said Cross.

The legislation now heads to the House floor.

If passed, there’s still no guarantee DeSantis will sign off.

But if he does, the path for the turnpike extension would have to be finalized by 2022.

The legislation also calls for improvements to US-19 and the extension of the Sun Coast Parkway to be developed by 2035.