Earlier this year, the Legislature passed and Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a new approach to infrastructure planning and investment. The Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (MCORES) program within Florida’s Department of Transportation is tasked with the construction of three regional corridors that will enable Florida to strategically plan for future population growth, revitalize rural communities, protect our unique natural resources and enhance public safety.
Unfortunately, much has been written and said that limits this important program to a discussion on toll roads. Several years ago, when I set out to make infrastructure a priority of my term as Senate president, my vision was much broader. That vision, refined by my fellow legislators and concerned citizens across Florida, resulted in the creation of a new approach to infrastructure with numerous benefits and limitless possibilities.
On Aug. 1, the Department of Transportation announced the members of three corridor planning task forces, including representatives of state agencies, water management districts, local governments, metropolitan planning organizations, regional planning councils and several conservation, community and environmental organizations. Over the next year, these groups will coordinate with the Department of Transportation to evaluate the economic, environmental and public safety impacts of the corridors. This work will begin in earnest next week with task force meetings in Tampa.
As this critical study and planning period begins, my challenge to community, environmental and business leaders is to use this historic opportunity to anticipate and incorporate the economic, security and environmental needs of the next 10, 20, even 40 years.
As Florida welcomes more than 900 new residents a day, similar to a city slightly larger than Orlando every year, the multi-use corridors program can help our state address congestion, establish hurricane evacuation routes to help keep our residents safe, enhance regional connectivity that promotes trade and logistics, and many other urgent transportation needs.
We also have the opportunity to invest in infrastructure that will revitalize the rural, legacy communities that have formed the backbone of our state for generations. Broadband, water, and sewer connectivity are key quality of life issues. All Floridians should have access to clean water. Meanwhile, investments in sewer systems can help mitigate current and prevent future damage to our environment. Through the the multi-use corridors program, we have a real opportunity to bring water and sewer lines within reach of rural communities across our state.
Broadband access is critical to both business and educational opportunities. Communities without broadband access have difficulty attracting new capital investment. Lack of broadband limits commerce, and students have less access to digital learning programs and resources. The corridor study areas produced by the Department of Transportation include many Florida counties with relatively low populations and per capita income that are underserved by fixed broadband access. Among those included are the four counties with the lowest rates of fixed broadband, where 79 to 99 percent of individuals are without access.
If implemented properly, the multi-use corridors program also provides a historic opportunity for Florida to innovate in a manner that anticipates the needs of tomorrow with corridor designs that accommodate energy distribution; autonomous, connected, shared and electric vehicle technology; shared-use non-motorized trails, freight and passenger rail and public transit.
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Another key task will be protection and enhancement of wildlife corridors and environmentally sensitive areas. As they design the corridors, the task forces are directed to consider concepts to combine right-of-way acquisition with acquisition of lands to facilitate environmental, wildlife habitat and water quality protection. I believe we can take this directive one step further to incorporate coastal resiliency.
Corridor study areas contain significant land designated as Critical Wildlife Corridor Opportunity Areas, including in some areas, portions of land subject to coastal changes. In my view, the MCORES Program can use its broad scope of authority to pursue options to acquire land that would serve to both protect wildlife corridors and improve coastal resiliency efforts.
As we move forward, public participation is critically important. There are many forums to share your comments or ideas. In addition to meetings next week, each task force will hold public meetings in their respective corridors. FDOT will hold community open houses to share progress and gather input. You can also visit floridamcores.com to submit questions and sign up for updates.
I am certain the task forces will thoughtfully consider your feedback and put together a final design plan that protects our environment and natural resources, revitalizes and encourages job creation in our rural communities and leverages technology to improve regional connectivity, while enhancing public safety and quality of life for Floridians across the state.
Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, is president of the Florida Senate.