This month marks my 37th year in Citrus County, and for some reason what’s coming back to me is the first impression of Inverness.
Small. Cute. Historic Old Courthouse in the middle of town. Friendly folks.
And one heck of a traffic problem.
U.S. 41/S.R. 44 was two lanes back then, and vehicles slowly snaked through the downtown area each weekday.
I thought of that the other day as I sat going nowhere on S.R. 44 heading east into town, at the long backup approaching C.R. 581.
It’s deja vu all over again.
Inverness is headed toward small-town gridlock, and there doesn’t seem to be anything anyone can do about it.
I’ve always wondered where the Citrus County traffic comes from. Locals, of course, but what about the others? There can’t be a lot of pass-through traffic, especially in Inverness, where U.S. 41 in each direction has no real destination spots outside of Brooksville or Dunnellon.
Then there’s S.R. 44, more or less a local state road. Clearly not a pass-through since it ends at the Gulf of Mexico. If you’re on S.R. 44, you’re not in Citrus County by accident.
Citrus County is a commuting community. Floral City visits Homosassa. Inverness drives to Citrus Springs. We’re constantly on the road headed somewhere and, so long as it stays within our borders, Citrus Countians generally understand that’s how things shake here. There is no center of activity.
For that reason, especially in the last 18 months, many of us who drive constantly are looking for ways to avoid messes. Some are easy, but three are generally in areas we can't avoid in order to get anywhere:
— U.S. 19 through Crystal River and Homosassa.
— C.R. 491/C.R. 486 in Lecanto where Target and all its friends are showing up.
— S.R. 44 in Inverness between Independence Boulevard and where 44 turns east on the south end of town.
The first two, frankly, are not a concern for me. U.S. 19 is what it is. Theoretically, the Suncoast Parkway was supposed to relieve traffic off U.S. 19, but I have no idea whether that’s happening. Other than construction nightmares, though, I’m not seeing gridlock or traffic signal backups anywhere in the county on 19.
As for Lecanto, that intersection was designed and built to handle an influx of commercial traffic. Truthfully, we really don’t know if it’s going to work as planned until the intersection is fully maxed out.
How will we know if it’s working? I’m guessing the goal of a planned commercial intersection is to avoid backups; right now, it’s easy-peasy getting through there. Let’s check back in a year.
Inverness, though, that’s a whole other challenge.
While the public isn't happy with the city's overall pro-growth march, I’m not sure that's totally to blame for what we’re seeing now.
For one thing, S.R. 44 is a commercial road, so it makes sense that every inch of space is zapped up. I’m not going to fault Inverness for encouraging restaurants and stores on S.R. 44, even if it makes long-timers pine for what used to be.
Still, I wonder: The traffic headed east backing up three light changes from C.R. 581…what is that? Where are these folks going? I would think Inverness might want the answer to that question. Unless it has no plans of ever addressing this problem, it'll only get worse.
We’ll leave that here, but before ending, I have two alternative routes to avoid the S.R. 44 backup through town. Picture you're headed east, past Croft Avenue.
At the Independence traffic signal, turn right. That’s actually Crystal Boulevard, which swings around to become Border Avenue. Turn left where Border ends at Haven Street, and that’ll take you to C.R. 581 near the library. Highland Boulevard continues the trek east, and you’ve avoided downtown altogether.
Or turn left at Independence. Drive past Inverness Villages 4 and turn right at Arlington Street. At U.S. 41, go right again into Inverness. Yes, the U.S. 41 construction is easier to navigate than S.R. 44. I'm not remotely kidding. It's not backup free, but while waiting just a minute or two at the new Montgomery Avenue intersection there's plenty to observe around you.
These detours are not necessarily faster, but they’re less stressful.
That’s my post-Super Bowl Monday message. Happy motoring, friends.
Join the discussion on our Facebook page.
Enjoying the blog? Please consider supporting it at Venmo, PayPal, or Patreon.
Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.