Toll Road Enters New Phase; Tall Timbers Seeks Strategic Changes

The Florida Department of Transportation (DOT) toll road project that threatens the Red Hills region, officially known as the Multi-Modal Corridors of Regional Economic Significance, entered a new phase on November 15, 2020, when the task forces submitted their final reports to the Legislature and the Governor. Throughout the 16-month task force process, Tall Timbers and our conservation partners provided research to the task force, DOT, and the public on critical topics including the potential fiscal impact of the project, potential negative affects to vital natural resources and conservation lands, and vulnerability of the Big Bend region to a changing climate and rising sea levels. View these reports on our website. Subscribe to our toll road specific email list for updates and opportunities for public input.

 

We also worked collaboratively with task force members to ensure important recommendations were included in the final report. Tall Timbers, 1000 Friends of Florida and many other conservation organizations helped to inform and educate the public about the toll road proposal and encourage public input throughout the process. As a result of Tall Timbers efforts, members of the public sent more than 2,000 emails to DOT, local county commissions, the regional transportation planning organization, and the Legislature.

What comes next?

The next phases in the planning process are the Alternative Corridor Evaluation (ACE) and the Project Development and Environment study (PD & E). The ACE will include analysis of a range of potential corridor route alignments, potential environmental impacts, and analysis of the engineering feasibility of these routes. The PD & E will include a deeper dive into the economic, environmental, and social impacts of feasible project alternatives evaluated in the ACE. The “no-build” alternative is a potential option in the PD & E analysis.

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What will Tall Timbers be working on now?

The next phase for Tall Timbers involves working closely with the Legislature to remove Jefferson County as the stated terminus of the toll road. This will provide DOT and project engineers the needed flexibility to fully evaluate alignments along the I-10 corridor. Another focus will be removing the Legislatively-mandated construction start and completion dates. This will allow adequate time to demonstrate if there is actually a transportation need for the project; assess potential impacts to natural resources, conservation lands, and rural communities; and assess the fiscal impact of this multi-billion-dollar project. Both of these recommendations were included in the task force final report at the urging of Tall Timbers.

Tall Timbers will also continue our robust outreach and education efforts to ensure our members, the conservation community, and the public are informed about the next phase of the project, key issues of concern, and opportunities to participate in the planning process to ensure their voices are heard.

Timing

The Alternative Corridor Evaluation and the Project Development & Environment study will take approximately two years. With fewer opportunities for public participation compared to the task force process, this next phase will require vigilance by conservation organizations and the public to ensure that public and private conservation interests are protected from threats posed by the Suncoast Connector toll road. We will continue our work to keep you up to date on strategic opportunities for public input.

More on the Suncoast Connector Task Force Report

Of greatest interest to Tall Timbers was the final report developed by the Suncoast Connector toll road task force. That report included a series of “high-level needs” identified by the Task Force including improving safety, mobility and connectivity through access to a high speed, high capacity transportation corridor; protecting and enhancing public and private environmentally sensitive areas; enhancing emergency management; improving economic and workforce development; and enhancing rural broadband access.

The report also included task force-developed “guiding principles” to serve as direction for the next phase of the project. These guiding principles include maximizing use of existing facilities before building new transportation alternatives; ensuring consistency with existing local, regional, and state transportation plans; building transportation corridors that accommodate multiple modes of transportation; promoting long-term resilience; and protecting the environment.

For additional information: Contact Tall Timbers Planning Coordinator Neil Fleckenstein.

 

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