LIVE OAK — In 10 years, travelers may have another major path south through Florida.
Jimmy Norris, the Suwannee County economic development director, updated the Live Oak City Council at its Jan. 14 meeting on the Suncoast Connector, part of the Florida Department of Transportation’s M-CORES (Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance) project that it says could revolutionize the state’s transportation system.
Norris said the proposed parkway wouldn’t travel through Suwannee County but it could still have an impact by potentially limiting travelers that pass through on Interstate 10 and Interstate 75.
“It concerns me a little bit because of our location on I-10,” Norris told the council following a disclaimer that he was not an expert on the proposal. “We’re just going to keep our blinders on and understand that we still have to do what we have to do. If that road opens in 10 years, maybe by then there will be so much traffic coming through Suwannee County and so many jobs here, that maybe they won’t exit off anyways, they’ll still come on down.
“We can’t worry about that road. We have to worry about what we can control.”
According to DOT, the corridors — in addition to the Suncoast Connector that would run 150 miles from north of Tampa in Citrus County up through eight counties (including Lafayette, Dixie, Gilchrist and Madison) to Jefferson County, there is also the Northern Turnpike Corridor (would run 40 miles through Cirtus, Levy and Sumter counties) and the Southwest Corridor (which would run 140 miles from Polk County to Collier County) — will revitalize rural communities in the state, spur job creation, provide more connectivity throughout the region while also protecting the state’s natural resources.
Norris said the new roadways would be used for hurricane evacuation and said it also could lead to the addition of high-speed fiber internet being laid along the corridors.
In August, task forces were appointed for each of the corridors with members from local governments, environmental groups, water management districts, regional planning councils and various state agencies, and construction could begin by late 2022 with completion possible by 2030.
The task forces will provide recommendations on whether the project should move forward and what it looks like.
While there is plenty of work and discussion still to go before the project gets underway, or even if it does, Norris said the opinions on the M-CORES connectors falls mainly in line with if it impacts one’s community: those that are connected to it are generally in favor.
“You’re very excited about it and you want it because you feel like it will bring growth and jobs,” he said. “There’s a lot of rural counties in our area that are concerned about how it will affect us.
“There are some counties that are banding together to kind of fight this because of those concerns.”
Council President Mark Stewart said the whole idea seems backwards. Generally, a need arises and then the solution is provided. Rather, than build a major highway through a rural area in the hopes that development will follow.
“Here in Florida, they’re trying to build a road and then come up with a need,” Stewart said, adding he has heard there may be a loss of 30 percent of the traffic on I-10 through Suwannee County. “They’re trying to tell us on this road, we’re going to have internet, water, sewer and all this kind of stuff.
“We won’t have anything out of it.”
“Except a loss of traffic,” Councilman Don Allen chimed in.
Norris agreed that construction of the parkway wasn’t a guarantee to an increase in jobs, although that is one of the proposed benefits of the project.
“If we travel south, there are still a lot of exits (on I-75) that are not developed,” he said. “Those roads have been in there 40-50 years and there’s still nothing there. It’s no guarantee that development is going to come.”