One more word about the turnpike and then we’ll exit (ha!) for now.
The county commission’s consensus Tuesday was an interesting one that essentially says, “State, when it comes to the turnpike extension, keep Citrus County out of your mouth.”
Rather than the straight no build that the anti-turnpike forces wanted, commissioners went with a more collegial “not in my backyard” approach, led by Commissioner Jeff Kinnard who wondered if it was in the county’s best interest to tell the state to go pound sand.
Actually, Kinnard wanted the board to delay taking a stand, based on a conversation he had with someone Tuesday morning who told him the state didn’t have the ability to widen I-75 for more traffic lanes.
Frankly, that seems a little hard to believe. I sat through two years of task forces trying to figure out the I-75 logjam between Ocala and Gainesville, and not once did anyone from the state say expanding the freeway couldn’t happen. Considering the ENTIRE REASON for one of those task forces was to provide relief on I-75 you’d think someone would have mentioned it.
Kinnard’s point was that the county doesn’t know enough of the state’s regional transportation needs to say yes or no to the turnpike extension.
So commissioners went with the next best option: No to turnpike HERE.
Politically, it makes sense. Logically, not so sure.
Let me use a hurricane example.
Few years back, when Hurricane Irma approached and we could see it moving right up the coast toward us, I naturally prayed for safety and protection for my family, friends and community.
It’s human nature to want a storm to move away, but I can't wish it on others to spare me. It’s not like I’m looking at the weather map and hoping it’ll push further east. Folks in The Villages don’t need a hurricane anymore than I do.
I have the same approach about the turnpike. Of course we’re zeroed in on the Citrus County routes and how they would affect our neighbors, homes and wildlife. But Marion, Sumter and Levy counties have neighbors, homes and wildlife. Is their quality of life less important than ours?
Wouldn’t it make better sense for the counties to show some kind of unified front? Even if we don’t agree, shouldn’t the counties be talking about it? Couldn’t we put the commission chairpersons in the same room and start a dialogue about the regional approach to this turnpike idea?
Trust me, the state will be on its game. One commissioner said Tuesday that local support isn’t needed for the state to build the road, which goes against everything the state told me with the Suncoast Parkway. Seems unlikely legislators who represent Citrus County would ignore the county’s direction on the turnpike and plow through with plans anyway.
The general feeling north of here is anti-toll roads. Opponents have done a good job gathering forces and staying on point. Some of the Tuesday morning speakers were not county residents, but represented conservation groups who spoke well and politely.
And not a single person spoke in favor of the turnpike. That’s kind of amazing but not surprising. As I’ve mentioned, the biggest killer of the turnpike in Citrus is no local advocate. The parkway had Jim Kimbrough. The turnpike has…nobody.
Tuesday was a workshop so no formal vote; that will come in a few weeks once the county commission has a resolution to vote on.
It’s the first step in what will likely be a long process. The state transportation department doesn’t like being told no, and politicians are known to change their minds.
The significance of the county’s position, as board Chairman Ron Kitchen Jr. pointed out, is it’s the starting point.
The county’s starting point on the Suncoast Parkway was yes, and opponents spent 20 years trying unsuccessfully to overturn that. With the turnpike, Citrus County’s starting point is no.
But it’s just the start.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.