Let’s end a long government week on a rant.
U.S. 41 is the biggest farce ever perpetrated on Citrus County by a state agency in human history.
Thank you. I feel better.
I took this photo sitting with my car facing north, but not actually moving north, on U.S. 41 near Hernando. It was around noon Thursday.
It was like this pretty much the entire way from Inverness. Traffic backed up for whatever reason. I think I saw a house up ahead in the road but that could’ve been my imagination.
Yes, yes, there’s traffic everywhere. This isn’t about traffic.
It’s about the U.S. 41 “widening” project. The one that hasn’t happened yet.
I recall two DECADES ago writing stories about how the Florida Department of Transportation was 15 years behind the four-laning of U.S. 41 between Inverness and Hernando. It kept getting on FDOT’s five-year plan, and kept getting extended and extended.
The project length also dropped. FDOT originally planned to widen about halfway between Hernando and Inverness, similar to the widening south to Floral City. Then it kept getting scaled back. I think the most recent plans have it advancing about 50 feet from S.R. 44 in Inverness in the next year or three.
I can see the chamber of commerce types cringing at my criticism of FDOT. Parkway, U.S. 19 widening, C.R. 491 widening (a mystery for another day), turnpike extension – all require an excellent relationship between locals and state. It’s a rare day when you hear a Citrus County politician be critical of FDOT.
But this U.S. 41 thing, I mean…c’mon. Seriously. We’re getting hosed. No nice way to put it.
Don’t hold me on the dates, but there came a time for the state to widen S.R. 44 between Inverness and Crystal River. Business owners along 44 were upset the state planned a raised median, one that removed the so-called suicide lane. FDOT says it’s safer, business owners worried about truck deliveries.
One businessman was particularly incensed. He gathered petition signatures against the raised median and gave them to then-state Sen. Karen Johnson, whose district office was next to his business. Johnson was also close with the then-FDOT Secretary Ben Watts, who had been our FDOT district secretary before getting the top job.
(Totally unrelated: I once paid $25 at a United Way silent auction for an FDOT coffee mug signed by Ben Watts.)
Watts put a stop to the raised median, ordering engineers to redesign the project with a center turn lane. Construction had already begun, so during the downtime contractors parked their heavy equipment directly in front of the business that started it all.
And that’s why we have a center turn lane on S.R. 44 between C.R. 581 and Croft Avenue in Inverness.
Few years later, state goes to widen U.S. 41 from Inverness south. Same thing. Raised median. Angry business owners. Petition to keep the median open.
This time, no dice. In fact, if I recall, FDOT’s answer was along the lines of: If you don’t like it, we won’t build the road at all. Everyone turned tail and we have a raised median on a four-laned segment of U.S. 41.
I mention all this to show the state doesn’t like getting pushed around. Related to U.S. 41, they’ll widen it when they get around to it.
And not a mile before.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.