The Suncoast Connector: What We Still Need to Know
Florida recently began one of the largest transportation infrastructure projects in modern Florida history: the Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (M-CORES) program.
Since its creation through legislation in 2019, the program has been the subject of study by official entities and the focus of significant public debate. Initially, numerous respected and credible business associations expressed strong support for the program while many environmental groups strongly opposed it. Since then, battle lines have continued to grow and shift as new issues arise, additional information emerges, and more and more stakeholders make their voices heard.
Despite this extensive public discourse, what they are arguing about is largely theoretical, as many questions remain about the program itself and the specific projects which comprise it.
One of the foundational elements of the M-CORES program is the expansion of the state’s toll road system (the Florida Turnpike System) through the creation of three new major road segments. One of these segments is the Suncoast Connector, which will traverse approximately 150 miles north-south on Florida’s west coast from Citrus County to Jefferson County (and the Florida-Georgia state line), and is the focus of this report.
The benefits of a massive rural infrastructure project could range from increased mobility to improved access to enhanced economic development, all of which would benefit the communities served and the state as a whole. On the other hand, environmental issues, traffic concerns, and the possibility of further isolating already pocket-sized communities are reasonable concerns which should be taken seriously.
While much remains unknown about the specifics of the Suncoast Parkway (including the exact route of the road) this Florida TaxWatch report examines the potential costs and long-term financial challenges and obligations of constructing the Suncoast Connector portion of the M-CORES program. Essentially, this analysis focuses on the need for, cost of, and revenue potential from the Suncoast Connector toll road as an expansion of Florida’s Turnpike System.
These questions are especially important because the turnpike system is generally self-financing through tolls paid by users and little or no state and local tax dollars flow to the turnpike system for maintenance or even recovery of building costs. This user-fee-based arrangement makes the turnpike system both beneficial for taxpayers and the financial wellbeing of the Florida Turkpike System. State law even recognizes the vital importance of protecting this financial arrangement by requiring an economic feasibility test for new projects so the system does not become overloaded with costs and debt, which could eventually require a bailout.
Florida TaxWatch has historically been and continues to be a strong and effective advocate for public investments in Florida transportation infrastructure, which among other benefits generally have short- and long-term economic stimulus effects by creating jobs and capital investment. But as with all taxpayer-funded investments, what must be carefully analyzed—and yet remains to be examined—is whether this multi-billion-dollar investment is likely to pay off for Floridians in the expected time frame. It is vitally important for these fiscal issues to be thoroughly examined beforehand to protect current and future taxpayers, as well as Florida’s financial health. It is our hope that this report can be a catalyst for that important conversation.