M-CORES expansion makes national list of top US highway boondoggles

There are better ways to improve Florida’s regional connectivity, especially amid COVID-19-related budget shortfalls

Florida PIRG Education Fund

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group have added Florida’s M-CORES expansion, an over $10.3 billion, 330-mile, three-highway construction project, to a list of the country’s top highway boondoggles in a new report. Among the seven wasteful highway projects identified in the report Highway Boondoggles 6, no project would saddle a state with greater debt and irreversible environmental degradation than Florida’s M-CORES project. Despite $1 billion in budget cuts in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the state’s 2020-21 budget approved by Gov. Ron DeSantis still includes $90 million for M-CORES. While the highway was proposed to address hurricane evacuation and traffic congestion, it is unlikely to do either. Instead, it will take money away from more pressing needs, destroy large swaths of natural areas and put the Florida panther at increased risk of extinction.

“Every time we spend money on infrastructure, we have an opportunity to re-envision the future,” said John Stout, U.S. PIRG Transportation advocate and report co-author. “If we’re smarter about how we spend our transportation dollars and focus instead on building a 21st-century transportation system, Florida can build a better state coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, one with less pollution, less gridlock and a healthier environment.”

“Decades of highway expansion projects have left us stuck in traffic and stuck in debt,” Frontier Group’s report co-author Gideon Weissman said. “We need a new approach — one that allocates money where it’s needed the most as opposed to doubling down on the failures of the past.”

An analysis by environmental groups, Sierra Club and 1000 Friends of Florida, estimates that the proposed M-CORES project will also impact vast tracts of some of Florida’s last remaining undeveloped lands, including springsheds, wetlands and wildlife corridors, increasing the threat of extinction for the Florida panther.

Despite their enormous costs and destructive impacts, the highways are being rushed toward construction without sufficient study or planning. M-CORES legislation allows millions of dollars to be spent without the typical preliminary corridor planning analysis to determine the need for the system from a transportation perspective or the financial feasibility of the roads.

The report recommends that Florida cancel the M-CORES highway expansion project and instead invest in more effective solutions, such as road repair, transit expansion and the improvement of existing, paved multi-use trails.

“Not only will the M-CORES highway project fail to make our communities resilient in the face of hurricane events but the project could destroy the very places that make living in Florida so special,” said Jenna Stevens, state director at Environment Florida. “Instead of paving over our wild places and threatening our wildlife, we should be investing in a clean transportation future that benefits all Floridians.