As if the Suncoast Parkway opening soon and the uncertainty of the Florida Turnpike extension through Citrus County wasn’t enough, now there’s ANOTHER road project out there to keep on the radar.
It’s the big U.S. 19 “free flow” study.
You may not have heard of this. I saw a legal notice in the newspaper about some public meetings in Inglis and Chiefland, and nice people from the Florida Department of Transportation were on hand Tuesday to explain it all to county commissioners.
This is a project related to the turnpike extension, though wisely no one went in that direction during the brief presentation.
It’s the second part of the legislation that extends the turnpike, the part few people even knew about until the legals showed up.
This is the project: Making sure there’s a clear line of traffic flow on U.S. 19 between Red Level and Chiefland.
Now. I know what you’re thinking. Anyone who has spent time on U.S. 19 in Levy County knows its miles and miles of nothing. For 43 miles it’s Red Level…Inglis…Otter Creek…Chiefland. And a bunch of trees in between.
So why would the state need to spend good money to study ways to avoid traffic where there is none? Because the state Legislature told it to.
Remember M-CORES? I had hoped to forget it but unfortunately it lives on through ideas like this.
M-CORES was the creative genius of a former Senate president (NOT Wilton Simpson) who decided Florida was in need of more toll roads that the public hates. Task forces were set up — Citrus County commissioners sat on two of them — and they studied this, that and the other thing regarding the extension or creation of toll roads through pristine Florida wilderness.
When it was all said and done, the task forces agreed on one thing: We don’t need more toll roads, or at least we don’t have the information to support more toll roads.
Here’s the challenge with a state-mandated public process: It involves the public. Unlike local government, which tends to receive public input BEFORE voting for or against the public’s wishes, the state government does the opposite. Without a single public hearing, the state decided on the road projects and then went about asking residents what they thought of them.
And…guess what? The public wasn’t thrilled. Now, I know there are people who travel the state holding up “No build” signs at local government meetings and county commissioners tend to ignore those folks. But there are also plenty of locals who have taken up the anti-turnpike cause.
It’s a strange position for local commissioners and city council members. On one hand, they’ve got FDOT whispering in their ear about regional connectivity, improving the economy, putting people to work, and lessening stress on local roads. In the other ear, it’s a loud “No build!”
So now the state is studying the possible effects a turnpike extension might have on U.S. 19 between Red Level and Chiefland. FDOT will have an open house meeting from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Feb. 22 at the Inglis Community Center.
I know we do these studies for years down the road (ha!), but spending good money to study a rural stretch of U.S. 19 before anyone knows what the turnpike might look like, where it will go, how much traffic is expected seems foolish. Shouldn’t we at least have the study done on the turnpike first?
What do I know? This turnpike thing may never happen, but by golly if it does, we’ll know how to get around Otter Creek. I'm sure that makes it all worthwhile.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.