SEBRING — County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday for the M-CORES program, in support of a route that comes to or goes through Highlands County.
However, even now after months of discussion on the matter, there is no set route for the proposed multi-modal, high-speed, limited-access corridor meant to improve transportation of goods and people between southwest and central Florida and for all places along the way.
The state’s self-imposed deadline on the Florida Department of Transportation to start the project has not altered. It’s still the end of this year.
Tuesday’s resolution in support of the Southwest-Central Florida Connector supports a route through portions of Hendry and Glades counties and running north through Highlands toward southern Polk County, with interchanges on State Roads 70, 66 and 64.
The resolution, also in favor of the program to create the corridor, the Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (M-CORES) program, states that Highlands County’s incorporated communities and special districts support improving the county and state’s existing transportation infrastructure.
Legislative Affairs Grants Coordinator Sydney Armstrong read the resolution aloud, in which the county asserts that “it is time” for rural central Florida to have itself opened up to improved commerce that such a road would provide.
In the past, the commission has spoken in support of the corridor project in general and in favor of improving road and communication infrastructure, overall, but originally shied away from support of this specific corridor without knowing greater detail about it.
“Questions?,” Commissioner Jim Brooks asked after the end of the reading.
“Questions,” Commission Chair Ron Handley said.
“Comments?” Brooks asked.
“Comments?” Handley repeated. “Or make a motion. Whatever you want to do.”
“Maybe all of the above,” Brooks said.
Commissioner Jim Brooks cautioned that the resolution, as written and read into the record, makes it sound as though the route will definitely come through Highlands County.
“We really don’t know that yet,” Brooks said.
“We definitely don’t know that yet,” Handley said.
“And we probably won’t,” Brooks added.
Brooks said he would still support the road if it hugs the county line, east or west, and wants to make sure the resolution reflects that.
Interim County Attorney Sherri Sutphen said the resolution mirrors language used by other counties and municipalities that agree with the Highlands or near-Highlands alignment.
“I think that, of course, they would assume that anything close to this you would be happy with, but that would be your preferred alignment,” Sutphen said.
With that, Brooks made a motion to approve the resolution and Commissioner Arlene Tuck seconded it. It passed unanimously.
After the meeting, Commissioner Don Elwell said he wasn’t sure what was the latest version of the alignment, and had heard one option that included some of U.S. 27.
He said he was not sure if it wouldn’t be better to be alongside the county, given the cost of right of way and the need to serve but not destroy developed and environmentally-sensitive areas. He hopes that bringing the corridor to or near the county would help bring improvements to the county’s east-west corridors, at least.
“I think it will be an economic boon for us. I just don’t know to what extent,” Elwell said.