Prepare now or plan to stay stuck
Something to ponder this Valentines Day while wondering if it’s your imagination that traffic in Citrus County has gotten much worse.
It’s not your imagination.
I’m on the road a lot. A drive from Inverness to Crystal River most times of the day would be 30 minutes or so. Now it’s 40 minutes. Worse if the traffic is packed close to the downtown areas.
Crystal River is frantic about the U.S. 19 problem. Again, not every hour of every day. But at any given time on any given weekday, it’s a slow crawl through the business district.
Meanwhile, my hometown is beginning to remind me of the Inverness I first met 35 years ago. Traffic snaked through the city then and continued to do that until the state widened Main Street. Now we’ve got four lanes and the same problem.
Citrus County outside the cities has its own challenges. State Road 44 and C.R. 486 both serve well as east-west routes, but there are few north-south options. Everyone knows Croft needs to be widened but when, how, and at what cost?
The point is not to complain about our busy roads. It’s instead to point out that we all collectively share road challenges and they should be faced together.
That’s why I’m suggesting the county and two cities join forces to hire a consultant to develop a long-range transportation master plan that takes into account our realistic growth patterns and makes suggestions, along with costs, on how best to move folks about.
I know “long-range transportation master plan” is a mouthful of government, and no one likes the word “consultant”. So please let me walk you through my thinking.
I’m going to use Turkey Oak as an example because it drives (ha!) home my point.
Crystal River is a victim of its own success. It always had U.S. 19 slicing through town, but both sides of Citrus Avenue weren’t always thriving as they are now. So the city didn’t have the pedestrian crossing issue 10 years ago that it faces on a daily basis today.
Convinced the Suncoast Parkway is only going to make that worse, the city is pushing Turkey Oak Drive as a bypass. Certainly makes sense, right? Look on a map, and the road definitely is the easier way to avoid that U.S. 19 congestion if you’re west on S.R. 44 and are heading north of the city.
But Turkey Oak has its challenges as a bypass. For one, the Crystal River High School entrance. Plus, the county is marketing 350 acres for residential development on Turkey Oak.
I’m not poo-pooing the Turkey Oak idea. I’m saying it has challenges that should be addressed instead of ignored.
Here’s the thing though: This shouldn’t be Crystal River’s problem alone. The city didn’t create this traffic nightmare, why is it on the hook alone to fix it?
It’s the county’s ultra-successful marketing of tourism related to the manatee and Three Sisters Springs that no doubt have contributed as well.
Let’s be blunt: The idea that Crystal River, Inverness and the county have SEPARATE transportation challenges is ridiculous. All of us in Citrus County share in these roadwork issues and we should work together to solve them.
A well coordinated plan of attack sets Citrus County’s road network up for whatever’s coming. A consultant — yes, an actual expert we pay real money for because we’re worth it — can help Citrus County and the two cities plan for a road system that makes sense for 150,000 people today and 300,000 tomorrow.
Time is not on our side. We can’t waste another mile.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 35 years.