county can't ignore turnpike talk
They know nothing about the road, where it’s going or how it gets there.
They know nothing of the cost. Or whether houses will be plowed under, or businesses, or farm land.
This may be the best road project in Florida’s history or its worst. It could be a huge boost for Citrus County’s future or a shock that can’t be overcome.
Right now, the turnpike extension is just guess work, little more than politics at this point.
Yet a group of Citrus County elected officials heard enough in a 30-minute presentation Friday morning to determine that “no build” is no option for the Florida Department of Transportation in its plans for extending the turnpike from Wildwood to U.S. 19 between Crystal River and Chiefland.
This all happened at the annual leaders summit in Lecanto. Elected officials from the city councils, school board and county commission spent a few hours discussing issues of mutual interest.
FDOT was there in the morning for the turnpike presentation, and so were the opponents. These meetings generally don’t attract much interest, but mention “turnpike extension” and you can be sure folks holding “no build” signs will show up.
As County Commission Chairman Ron Kitchen Jr., who chaired the summit, said, declaring “no build” off the table is a starting point for discussion, though I’d add that Friday’s discussion was just that and nothing more.
— The presentation was in the morning when the opponents were there. Then the group broke for an hour to attend the Charlie Dean building dedication ceremony at CF. When the meeting reconvened, most of the citizens were gone.
Plus, this was one of those workshops where the public can show up but not participate. So there was no “open the public” portion of the meeting.
The point is the elected officials in the room who declared “no build” is no option did so without asking the public for its opinion.
Regardless whether you love or hate the turnpike idea, public input is vital. I would hope each of the four boards represented Friday will formalize the discussion with resolutions so we know what exactly it is they’re supporting. They should encourage constituents to offer ideas, suggestions and opinions.
— There are four proposed routes. Two have much more direct impact on Citrus. Rather than offer an opinion on the routes, the politicians generally told FDOT to pick the best one and then they will chime in.
Sorry, but that’s a pretty weak approach. C’mon commissioners, do we really need to beg you to stay on top of this for us?
I look to Pine Ridge as an example. The Suncoast Parkway, as we all know, is headed to C.R. 486 once the route to S.R. 44 is complete.
But did you know this? The ONLY reason FDOT is putting an interchange at C.R. 486 is because the county commission asked for it. After S.R. 44, the next interchange was scheduled for Citrus Avenue, and then U.S. 19.
They did this for at least two reasons: parkway-related traffic would overwhelm C.R. 491; continuing to C.R. 486 would keep the parkway moving north out of Citrus County.
That’s fine, but in doing so they basically left Pine Ridge residents to fend for themselves. Yes, county officials assisted Pine Ridge in successfully getting FDOT to move the parkway interchange to the east away from their community entrance, but that would not have happened had the community not raised a fuss.
Doing that for the parkway is one thing. Citrus has been planning for that road for over two decades. It’s a major part of the county’s economic future.
The turnpike, not so. While extending the turnpike to U.S. 19 north has been talked on and off for quite some time, the only reason it’s to this point now is because a bunch of Tallahassee politicians decided it.
No one is clamoring for this road. There’s not a huge outcry for that Miami-to-Chiefland connector. Let’s cut the rhetoric and remember that this is a legislative deal. A new Legislature in 2023 could kill the whole thing. Or speed it up. Citrus County really has nothing to do with it. We’re just geography.
That means our county government needs to stay on top of it. Citrus residents shouldn’t have to wait for the next FDOT update.
We haven’t heard the last of this, in fact, we’re just starting. I’m already seeing turnpike talk creeping into political campaigns.
Don’t let candidates get away with saying he/she wants the turnpike or doesn’t. Ask them what they truly know about the project, its history, and how it relates to the parkway and I-75. If they don’t know the answers, consider how informed their opinion is.
The turnpike could be years away or decades. Time now to start having the talk.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 35 years.