It’s the Monday after Easter so let’s talk about the Suncoast Parkway and local roads.
There’s some interesting conversation taking place about the parkway’s impact on the local roads we all recognize — Cardinal Street, County Road 491 and Homosassa Trail, to name a few — and the general feeling the state should be helping with whatever improvements the county or city of Crystal River feel is needed.
A long-awaited study from the Hernando-Citrus Metropolitan Planning Organization concluded last week with, frankly, very little to go on.
Crystal River had asked the MPO for a study to back up its financial request to the state to use Turkey Oak Drive as a bypass. The study wasn’t finished when Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed $20.7 million for Turkey Oak.
At Citrus County’s request, the study broadened to include other county roads.
That’s the setup. The MPO study will show us the parkway’s immediate impact on select local roads since opening a year ago and its projected impact in the years to come once it reaches U.S. 19, so that we might start making plans.
It didn’t do that. Instead, its traffic projections are based on just one future year: 2045. I’m good with long-range projecting but shouldn’t there be some shorter-range looks as well?
And the baseline is 2015. So our starting point data is 8 years old. The traffic patterns of this county have changed significantly in the last two years alone.
Plus, Turkey Oak — the supposed reason for this $248,000 study — was never seriously considered as a bypass. With the state now funding construction of the parkway to U.S. 19, the thinking is that’ll get done before anything of significance can happen to Turkey Oak.
Turns out the road pavement is — here’s a shock — inferior in some places and will need to be rebuilt if the city wants the road improved enough for a bypass.
Instead, the study suggests the city continue trying to get state funding to improve the Turkey Oak/S.R. 44 intersection which, as we all know, is as bad as they come around here.
Two very quick points:
— The study says C.R. 491 between Pine Ridge Boulevard and S.R. 200 is the county’s biggest road-widening need. I don’t think we need to wait until 2045 to figure that out.
— It also said Cardinal Street won’t need widening, which comes no doubt to the dismay of residents out there who have reported big traffic numbers off the parkway.
Another parkway-related item:
I’ve mentioned that it would be swell to see the Crystal River City Council have a conversation about whether a Suncoast Parkway interchange at C.R. 495, also known as Citrus Avenue, really makes sense.
The state has begun extending the parkway from S.R. 44 to C.R. 486 and will start the next leg to C.R. 495 once completed in two or three. Remember that the 486 interchange was never in the original plans and added only after Citrus County requested it.
So now the question begs whether the C.R. 495 interchange makes sense or not.
We’re seeing traffic pinch points all over the county and Crystal River’s is Citrus Avenue at U.S. 19. Not only is that the commercial center of the city, it’s a busy pedestrian crossing, particularly on weekends.
The other day I was driving along Crystal Street and couldn’t cross Citrus Avenue because the traffic was backed up from U.S. 19.
It would seem logical that an interchange at Citrus Avenue pulls parkway traffic directly into that pinch point, with no alternatives for Crystal River other than just suck it up.
Councilman Robert Holmes wonders that as well. At the leadership summit a few weeks back, Holmes suggested the city consider telling the state it opposed the C.R. 495 exit.
Commissioner Jeff Kinnard jumped in, saying if the city is going to take that stance, the county should consider supporting the city.
All this is premature as the city hasn’t discussed much about the parkway. I’m told, though, to expect conversation along this line at Monday’s council meeting.
I don’t know if Holmes’ idea will get any traction, but it’s an important parkway conversation to have.
It isn’t the first. Definitely won’t be the last.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.