Monday morning’s opening of the Suncoast Parkway brought a few dozen folks to the ribbon cutting ceremony, but frankly it wasn’t the large crowd I expected.
And you know something? That's good.
Many of us old timers attended the opening of Suncoast 1 in 2001. Now that was a turnout. Politicians, business types, protesters, regular citizens, lots of media. Completing Suncoast 1 was Tampa Bay’s first leap northward from the Veterans Expressway, and we all converged on the blacktop.
There was convergence on blacktop again Monday, but it wasn’t the same feeling at all.
Don’t get me wrong. Not a bad feeling. The county government was well represented, as was the chamber of commerce. While the big brass didn’t make it from Tallahassee, the ones who were there from the highway department spoke glowingly of the partnership that led to this day.
But let’s be honest. A Wawa opening would be a much bigger draw.
I actually thought folks would appreciate the history of the moment and show up to share in it. The truth is, this county is changing so rapidly it’s hard to hang onto any nostalgia.
My fuddy duddy way has to accept that a good chunk of folks who live in Citrus County have no idea of the parkway’s history. They just want to use the dang thing.
So let’s talk about the road itself. Few observations:
—Nice. Just a nice ride. Scenic in many spots.
— That Duke transmission line. Never really noticed that thing until it’s lined up right alongside the parkway and runs side by side straight for miles.
— It’s frankly a little surreal. This is our home and we’re seeing it from a brand new perspective. It was all woods, houses and businesses 20 years ago. Now a toll road runs through it.
— Entirely different vibe for anyone taking the parkway north to its conclusion. Rather than ending at the dark and dreary U.S. 98, this road spills into an obvious active S.R. 44. The sign at the off-ramp gives me two choices:
Left: Crystal River
For what it’s worth, when I was exiting the parkway around 4:30 Monday, there were four vehicles in the left lane and I was the only one turning right.
—We have a shiny new toy to get comfortable with. As I thought more about the unimpressive turnout for the grand opening, a thought came to mind: It’s not that we’re too busy to recognize a moment of significance, it’s that the moment is much grander than cutting the ribbon on pavement.
Yes, the parkway is here and open. Already there’s excitement with the state saying it will start the extension to C.R. 486 next year, and it seems committed to complete the parkway to U.S. 19 at Red Level.
So what I saw Monday wasn’t apathy, rather a shrug of the shoulders because Citrus County is achieving so much every day. The parkway just adds to it. That’s the way I read it.
The Suncoast Parkway has arrived. Go give it a spin.
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