M-CORES repeal bill heads to Florida Senate floor

'You can't not build roads,' Sen. Gayle Harrell says
Posted at 12:52 AM, Mar 19, 2021

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida lawmakers are second-guessing plans to build three major toll roads in the state.

Thursday, members advanced a bill that would defund and repeal the controversial M-CORES (Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance) project. The policy now heads to the Senate floor.

Approved in 2019 to address the state's growing population, M-CORES calls for expanding the Suncoast Parkway north, Florida's Turnpike west and creating a new corridor through rural south-central land.

"I think when you have a $2 billion shortfall in the state of Florida, it's time to re-evaluate everything," Sen. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, said.

Harrell is sponsoring SB 100 that would defund and replace M-CORES. It would mainly focus on bolstering existing roads instead of building new ones.

"We have 1,000 people a day moving into Florida," she said. "You can't not build roads. The question is where do you build them? How (do) you build them? Are they financially feasible?"

Harrell's legislation would still allow for a northern extension to Georgia. But it also aims to address congestion on Interstate 75 and improve rural two-lane roads to accommodate commercial trucks.

Florida Sen. Gayle Harrell discusses M-CORES repeal bill
Florida Sen. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, discusses a bill that would defund and repeal the M-CORES project, March 18, 2021, in Tallahassee, Fla.

Lawmakers in the Appropriations Committee gave the legislation bipartisan support with some reservations.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, questioned whether Harrell had consulted with the governor or the transportation department on the bill. Harrell said she had not and that she didn't know their position.

Brandes voted in favor, regardless.

A few Democrats held back support, hoping more could be done to protect the environment and potentially impacted communities.

"I take no joy in voting no," Senate Minority Leader Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, said. "Sometimes if we all vote yes, maybe we lose momentum on how we can, you know, still improve a bill."

Though SB 100 has continued to make strides in the Senate, nothing close to it has gotten traction in the House. The governor has also asked to preserve $700 million to fund M-CORES in the coming fiscal year, suggesting he may still be a fan.

Despite those challenges, Harrell seemed confident her bill was destined for approval.

"It's all part of the negotiation process," she said.