Crystal Oaks Drive has a popularity problem.
If you’re not sure where Crystal Oaks is, it’s a few feet from the Suncoast Parkway on-ramp at State Road 44.
Anyone getting off the parkway looking for the quickest drive to U.S. 19 takes a left onto Crystal Oaks Drive and it’s about 7 minutes (I timed it Wednesday) to the Home Depot. Coming the other way, it’s an easy route to the parkway.
Not surprising, Crystal Oaks residents aren’t happy with this latest influx of traffic. Too many cars driving too fast for a 35 mph neighborhood roadway.
Commissioner Jeff Kinnard wants the county to do something to ease both the number of vehicles and speed on Crystal Oaks Drive. He called them “calming” devices. I think the residents would be happy with strategically placed stop signs.
This isn’t a new problem for Crystal Oaks, though the parkway opening just steps from its front door certainly exacerbates it.
The truth is, Crystal Oaks Drive is meant to carry more than just neighborhood traffic. I wouldn’t call it a bypass, but it’s a safe bet that a lot of cars on that roadway over time were driven by people who don’t call Crystal Oaks their home.
I’m fuzzy on the details — been 25 years or more — but the Crystal Oaks dilemma was born from a decision county commissioners made to build Venable Street. The idea then was to take traffic off Seven Rivers Drive (yes, the traffic conversation has gone on for decades), a narrow residential road, and build Venable instead between Rock Crusher Road and U.S. 19.
Venable didn’t stop at Rock Crusher. Instead, it continued onward into nothing but a dead end. Everyone called it the road to nowhere and commissioners were blistered over it.
The county kept saying not to worry, that a developer was going to extend Crystal Oaks Drive to that open end of Venable, creating a straight shot between U.S. 19 south of Crystal River and S.R. 44 in Lecanto.
That’s exactly what happened, to the dismay of Crystal Oaks residents who received assurances that the main road through their community wouldn’t become a shortcut. When Home Depot opened not long after directly opposite the Venable Street traffic signal on U.S. 19, the Crystal Oaks cut-through was set.
Crystal Oaks residents noticed the traffic immediately and complained to the county, to no avail. One commissioner at the time pointed out to me an interesting detail: There are no homes on Crystal Oaks Drive, no driveways backing up into a busy street. Her point: Things aren’t as bad as they seem.
I checked the county’s traffic counts and saw an interesting trend. Daily traffic on Crystal Oaks Drive at S.R. 44 averaged 3,176 cars in 2016 and jumped to 4,052 in 2020. Since then, oddly, it’s declined; the ‘22 count shows 3,670 cars a day.
That trend is likely to end soon if it hasn’t already. Not only is Crystal Oaks contending with parkway traffic, owners of the 950 homes approved at the current Rock Crusher Canyon site will no doubt be pleased with easy access to Lecanto through Crystal Oaks Drive.
This isn’t an isolated incident of parkway/growth headaches. I’ve mentioned Maylen Avenue, a once-quiet country lane that’s suddenly the preferred shortcut between S.R. 44 and the C.R. 491 commercial area.
And Pine Ridge residents are particularly concerned for what’s coming. Even though the parkway interchange at C.R. 486 will be east of the Pine Ridge entrance, some believe traffic will still cross through Pine Ridge to avoid the likely congested areas of C.R. 491.
Some of this is real (Maylen) and some is speculation (Pine Ridge). Traffic is making a lot of people nervous these days.
The Crystal Oaks traffic situation is real. It’s been real for years and only a fool would say it won’t get worse. Plus, replace “Crystal Oaks” with a half-dozen road names in Citrus County and you see the challenge we face.
Gotta start somewhere. Crystal Oaks, you’re it.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.