DOT damage-avoidance graphic fails to ease fears about new highways through wild Florida

This 1944 photo by Robert L. Stone shows Florida ranch land that is managed in much the same way today. Proposed connector highways would cut through such undeveloped expanses. Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

Florida transportation authorities released a map this week showing areas designated for little or no damage from construction of three new highways through rural parts of Florida.

These apparently did little to allay fears that the massive projects will destroy the state’s last wild and rural landscapes.

The map, called an “avoidance graphic,” indicate sites where the Florida Department of Transportation intends to avoid disturbances when the proposed highways are built.

“I am confident that the avoidance graphic articulates our promise to protect and preserve Florida’s environment, while also planning for the state’s inevitable future growth,” said DOT Secretary Kevin J. Thibault.

However, critics warn that avoiding the most sensitive sites will not protect the targeted regions because the highways are specifically intended to promote development.

“No one should be fooled by FDOT’s maps. There will be massive secondary impacts from converting wildlife habitat and agriculture lands into more subdivisions and asphalt,” said Sarah Gledhill, senior Florida field campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity.

“The suburban sprawl that will follow will eat up Florida’s wild and rural landscape. And once they’re gone, they’re gone forever.”

The proposed highways – called Multi-Use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance, or M-CORES – are:

– The Suncoast Connector, extending from Citrus County to Jefferson County.

– The Northern Turnpike Connector, extending from the northern terminus of Florida’s Turnpike northwest to the Suncoast Parkway.

– The  Southwest-Central Florida Connector, extending from Collier County to Polk County.

By October, each M-CORES task force is expected to have evaluated the unique needs of each project area and their effects on the economy and environment, hurricane evacuations, and land-use, plus design features that could protect or mitigate environmental damage. DOT wants highway builders to avoid features including spring heads, cultural sites, and historic places.