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Transportation

New Report Questions Cost Of Suncoast Parkway Extension

Suncoast Parkway
Steve Newborn
/
WUSF Public Media

Florida Tax Watch says extending the Suncoast Parkway from Citrus County to the Georgia border would cost anywhere between $4 billion and $10.5 billion.  

The extension is part of M-CORES (Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance), a project championed by Florida Senate President Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton). In addition to three toll road projects, M-CORES would extend broadband, sewer, and other infrastructure improvements to rural parts of the state. Besides the Suncoast Parkway project, M-CORES includes connecting Florida’s Turnpike to the Suncoast Parkway, and building a new highway from Collier County to Polk County.  

The toll roads have raised the ire of conservationists and local governments, who say the new highways are not needed and would damage wetlands and wildlife habitats. Lawmakers approved Galvano’s M-CORES proposal last year. Three taskforces are holding public meetings on the projects and will deliver a report by November 15.  

To come up with a cost estimate for the Suncoast Parkway extension, Florida Tax Watch looked at earlier toll road projects. Toll road construction in Florida is financed mostly through bonds, which are paid off with toll revenue. The group says the price tag will likely end up at the higher end of the estimate.  

“At almost any cost in that range, it is highly doubtful that the new road would produce the necessary toll revenue to support the bonds to pay for it,” the report said, citing the fact that the Suncoast extension would pass through the most rural part of the state with little vehicle traffic.  

The COVID-19 pandemic would likely create more financing problems. Florida Tax Watch cited toll collections on Florida’s Turnpike, which fell by more than 50 percent in April. The state is also facing a decline in revenue from gas taxes and car rentals, two other sources of transportation funding.  

“The Suncoast Connector is a risky project with a significant price tag and little transportation need, proposed in a highly sensitive environmental area that is vulnerable to coastal flooding and rising sea levels,” the report said. “Moreover, this project subverts the normal deliberative transportation planning process mandating that the roads be built before any analysis has been completed. To do this with the largest transportation project in Florida in at least 60 years brings significant challenges that must be addressed in order to protect both taxpayers and the fiscal integrity of the Florida Turnpike System.” 

Planning for M-CORES remains on track. This year’s state budget includes $90 million for the project. Three public meetings for the toll road extensions will be held this week.  

UPDATE: After we published our story, the Florida Department of Transportation issued this statement on the Florida Tax Watch study:

"The M-CORES program is currently in the pre-planning phase and no paths/courses for the proposed corridors have been determined by the Task Forces at this time. As such, any estimation for a cost for a corridor would be very unreliable as the proposed corridors are yet to be determined. Also important to add in to any cost equation is traffic and revenue studies that have yet to be conducted. For reference, traffic and revenue studies are conducted by independent entities that have subject matter expertise in this area and are recognized by bond rating agencies. Lastly, per law, any proposed corridor must meet environmental and financial feasibility or they cannot be constructed. These feasibility studies can only be conducted once a proposed corridor is determined."