TAMPA, Fla. — The public got its first look at a plan to build three new toll roads in Florida during a kick-off event and task force meeting in Tampa.

  • M-CORES Project intended to alleviate congestion, help with hurricane evacuations
  • Majority of public comment opposed the additional toll roads
  • Opponents fear project will do further harm to state's wildlife
  • More Hillsborough County stories

The project, called the Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance, or M-CORES, is intended to relieve congestion, help with hurricane evacuations, and spur economic growth.

The toll roads would connect Polk County to Collier County, extend the Florida Turnpike west to connect to the Suncoast Parkway and extend the Suncoast Parkway to the Georgia border.

"We're starting off with a blank canvas," said Kevin Thibault, Secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation. "We're really just taking the legislative charge that was given to see what it's going to take to develop these corridors." 

Meanwhile, protesters gathered outside the Tampa Convention Center where the meeting was being held to express their opposition to the project.

"These roads are going to be incredibly destructive to some of the remaining wildlife in Florida and they're going to continue to lock this state in to a very "car-centric" transportation system," said James Lamont.

A public hearing was held during the kick-off to gather input. A majority of comments came from people who oppose the toll roads.

"This is a forced vote that's being crammed into a 13-month planning period," said Adam Bass. "People come to Florida for the beaches, the wildlife, and the Everglades and these toll roads threaten that. People don't come here for the roads."

But some said the roads are necessary to deal with the state's growth, particularly if a hurricane should hit again.

"Part of this corridor is an evacuation route to pull people out of Central and South Florida and get them to other places," said Kevin Wall. "Not to mention if you have a storm, you need a way to get more supplies in."

A final report is supposed to be ready by October 1, 2020.