Suncoast Pkwy expansion moved to Madison County, where reception remains mixed

Published: May. 4, 2021 at 10:07 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - The controversial M-CORES toll road project will no longer be cutting through Jefferson County, should Gov. Ron DeSantis sign into law a bill that repeals much of the plan created in 2019.

SB 100 passed through both chambers of the Florida legislature without much opposition. It moves the Suncoast Parkway extension terminus one county east, to Madison.

When the initial 2019 plan passed through the Capitol, a fierce grassroots campaign arose in Monticello. Soon, lawn signs targeting the toll road became as quintessential to Jefferson County as the courthouse roundabout.

Michele Arceneax is a founding member of that effort to change the law.

“What was the logic behind this decision?” she said. “No research, no studies, nothing to indicate we needed a project like this.”

Last December, Jefferson County Commissioner Chris Tuten helped pass a resolution, making it clear the county did not want the project.

“We didn’t believe it was right for the county, so we fought to keep it out of the county and succeeded,” he said.

Their voices reached Tallahassee and Rep. Jason Shoaf, who wasn’t a apart of the original effort to secure the road through Jefferson.

Rep. Shoaf said he heard from the public that Jefferson County wasn’t a good fit and started scouting a Plan B.

“Let’s work on compromising and finding a path forward that works for everyone,” he said.

Leaders in Madison were more receptive, open to the plan while citing possible economic advantages.

In a statement to WCTV, Madison County Commission Chair Ronnie Moore said, “We are looking at this from an economic development standpoint and how the Suncoast Connector can potentially benefit Madison County. The prospect of increased job opportunities for our citizens, plus improved infrastructure are positives for our community.”

Rep. Shoaf said Madison could be a good solution to a tricky situation.

“They have the infrastructure needed to provide great jobs,” Shoaf said.

But not everyone in Madison County is thrilled. Bryan McHargue is a lifelong resident who isn’t sold on the plan.

“There are a thousand questions left unanswered,” he said.

He works in agriculture, an industry he says could really be impacted by a major road expansion in the county.

“It doesn’t play positively in anything we do everyday,” he said.

What the road may end up looking like, and whether it will collect tolls at all, remains unknown. The vague wording of the 2021 bill asks for the project to wrap up by the end of 2035. FDOT is in control of the next steps, and is advised to focus on expanding existing routes, not create new ones.

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