Looking for the exit strategy
Here’s a conversation starter:
The next section of the Suncoast Parkway to County Road 486 is expected to begin construction soon and will take about two years.
Then it’s another five miles to Citrus Avenue, then another five miles to U.S. 19 and the entire Suncoast Parkway project will be complete by 2028-29, as the schedule shows.
Here’s my question: Why is the state placing an interchange at Citrus Avenue?
Whenever I ask this of a politician or high-ranking official, I’m told the same thing: It was always planned that way. An interchange on 495 between Emerald Oaks and Turkey Oak? Everybody knows that.
It should mean little when it comes to the parkway. Precedent for off-the-plan is already set.
The section between S.R. 44 and C.R. 486 was never on anyone’s plan, yet that’s what we’re getting because county commissioners saw that as an easier alternative than widening C.R. 491 to 486.
So, for someone to say the Citrus Avenue interchange is coming because that’s what the plan says, well, so what?
The question our leaders in the county and Crystal River should be asking is whether this makes sense today.
If they’re honest, it’s not an easy answer.
Crystal River is already freaking out about traffic coming off the parkway at S.R. 44, six miles or so east of the city. How’s it going to feel when the parkway ends at Citrus Avenue for three years before the final segment to U.S. 19 is built?
A few years back the county found itself in a pickle when realizing the parkway would open to S.R. 44 before C.R. 491 was widened to C.R. 486. The county believes a lot of that traffic will be headed to the Central Ridge or Marion County, creating a traffic squeeze on the two-laned 491.
(A peeve: Both Crystal River and the county have rattled off parkway opinions for 10 years without a single study to back their point.; a traffic-pattern study is now underway. Truthfully, no one has a clue where parkway drivers are headed once they hit S.R. 44. Anyone who says differently they’re just guessing. Like me.)
So the county asked to extend the parkway to C.R. 486 and the state said, “Sure!” Through some political finagling — again, not a single traffic study to support it — bingo, we had ourselves a brand-new parkway interchange at 486.
Meanwhile, Crystal River developed into a beautiful downtown area with Citrus Avenue as its centerpiece. The city did what many thought impossible: Linked both ends of Citrus Avenue --- with U.S. 19 in the middle --- creating a welcoming mix of shops, restaurants and parks.
And slow-moving vehicles. That was done on purpose. Citrus Avenue is a charming mom-and-pop kind of street.
With all that, one would think the last thing the city wants is straight shot to the parkway via Citrus Avenue right up the road. Yet, that’s exactly what it’ll get.
Whenever I bring this up to various politicians, I get that nothing-to-see-here look. Citrus and FDOT have a very good relationship and the county never wants to rock the boat.
I get it, but let’s be adults. Sometimes commissioners act like their hands are tied when it comes to FDOT. I heard a commissioner last week say as such during the Tuesday board meeting: “They’re going to do what they’re going to do.”
That is total nonsense and a cop-out. As we’ve already proven with the C.R. 486 interchange, FDOT listens to Citrus County and often follows its lead.
All I’m suggesting is we talk about it. Even 20 years ago, when the parkway was up for debate, FDOT never provided any logical explanation for the rural interchanges at Cardinal Street and Citrus Avenue.
Today the Citrus Avenue exit makes even less sense with the C.R. 486 interchange coming on board. If I count the U.S. 98 exit, and I do since it’s on the lip of Citrus County, we will have five entry/exit points to the Suncoast. FIVE. Think about that for a minute.
If Crystal River and the county believe the Citrus Avenue interchange is in our best interest — other than the risk of aggravating FDOT — now’s as good a time as any to say why.
‘Cuz I just don’t get it.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 35 years.