All this turnpike extension talk is making Citrus County residents more than a little stressed about a toll road plowing through their house.
Let's pump the brakes on that for a minute.
Before we all get together and decide which route we’d like the state to consider, and which ones to avoid, shouldn’t we first decide whether we want this road or not?
Seems like this is happening very fast. The state had a public meeting and is still taking comments from folks. Florida Department of Transportation officials made a presentation in January to a group of elected officials, who agreed in an informal way that the road should be built and the county should instead focus on the best route.
How they came to that conclusion is anyone’s guess because I haven’t heard word one about whether this is a good fit for us.
The county and cities are striving to come out of this with some sort of unified opinion. The chamber of commerce is taking a close look too.
I attended Tuesday’s Inverness City Council meeting to hear about plans for a possible beach at Wallace Brooks Park, which is basically a stone’s throw from Just Wright Citrus world headquarters. While there, someone from the public asked the council’s views on the turnpike extension.
Council president Dave Ryan said the council had no view because FDOT hadn’t given a presentation to the city council yet. City Manager Eric Williams said one will be done soon, and he is encouraging the council to come out of that with some sort of position.
Too early to choose a route, Ryan said.
That jogged a response in my brain that I hadn't fully considered:
Why are we talking about routes when we haven’t decided yet whether this makes sense for Citrus County?
Here’s the thing: We have become so engrossed in traffic, growth, economy etc. — all good and timely topics — that we’ve jumped ahead in the turnpike game plan.
Yes, of course we should be focused on the route. The most immediate impact of any new road is the house and business it’s replacing. To those folks, the road isn’t conceptual at all. It’s life changing.
But we can’t be lulled into thinking this is a where-is-it-going-to-go debate. That’s too easy and actually plays right into FDOT’s wheelhouse. The state would prefer the discussion to be about routes, because those can be moved and adjusted to fit political whims.
The broader discussion about being connected to an entirely different region of Florida hasn’t occurred. At least not publicly.
Even the no-builders aren’t talking about that. They are focused on issues normally related to highway projects, such as the environment, destruction of open spaces, and quality of life. All good issues that are open for community debate.
But let’s step back a minute. In my opinion, if this turnpike does not significantly IMPROVE the future of our county, we should tell FDOT to take a pass.
Two things to consider:
— The other end of the turnpike is Miami. MIAMI. Just think about that. A lot easier to get to a Heat game, right? And a lot easier for South Floridians to access our little slice of paradise.
— For 20 years, the stated draw of bringing the Suncoast Parkway further north into and through Citrus, was twofold: traffic and economy.
Traffic is a different discussion, but the economic argument always made sense. Citrus is part of Tampa Bay. Our elected officials are members of regional boards centered in Tampa. There’s a whole economic tie-in with Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties. Our FDOT district — District 7 — is anchored in Tampa.
And we’re all Bucs, Rays and Lightning fans.
What’s our economic tie-in to Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Miami? Citrus County leaders should answer that question, or at least start the conversation, before deciding on a route.
By the way, REALLY answer it. Not some vague dog-and-pony show response. This is serious business and residents should expect their leaders to take it seriously. They should expect the same from us.
Let’s give this turnpike extension the attention it deserves.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.