It’s a rare day when a story of magnitude falls from the sky, such as the one that dropped into my world Wednesday afternoon in Ozello.
I had driven out there to take a photo of — no kidding — a closed fishing pier. I’ll drive all day for a picture of immovable objects, staples of the Just Wright Citrus photo gallery.
I was sitting at the boat ramp on John Brown Drive when I learned from one source that the state was quashing the Northern Turnpike Extension routes. Ten minutes later, I had it confirmed and literally wrote up the Just Wright Citrus Facebook post on my phone in the boat ramp parking lot.
By late Wednesday and early Thursday, media outlets throughout the region were checking with their local politicians and learning they had received phone calls from the Florida Department of Transportation as I had reported.
And the FDOT release came out Thursday afternoon (dated Friday), summarizing what the local officials were told:
— The four potential routes from Wildwood to U.S. 19/Suncoast Parkway between Crystal River and Chiefland are off the table.
— The state will instead look at expanding capacity on I-75, finally agreeing with two task forces that reached the same conclusion.
— FDOT promised the next time it does this it’ll be hand-in-hand with community organizations and local governments.
So, what do we read from all this? A few observations:
— Huge win for Citrus County. No other way to look at it. I know some people see this as a lost opportunity, that Citrus is headed toward the big squeeze traffic wise and the turnpike would help.
Maybe, but there’s a time and a place and the turnpike was neither. No one had asked for this road but some state politicians. With all the challenges we are facing, and discussing, this campaign season, the last thing we needed was another toll road headed our way.
(I wrote several blogs about the turnpike project. Here’s one, and another, and another.)
— Incredible, absolutely incredible, victory for grassroots efforts. Local politicians deserve credit for standing up to FDOT, but they wouldn’t have even considered such a thing had citizens not been so unified and persuasive that this road was a bad idea.
I’ve gotten to know the No Roads to Ruin group a little over the years as the state has been pushing toll roads of one type or another in these parts. I’ve found its members informative, pleasant, organized, aggressive but not pushy, and absolutely dedicated to the cause.
I cannot express how rare it is for the government to crumble to citizens. Once the government makes up its mind, that’s usually the end of the story.
But this time FDOT realized the mountain of public opposition was too high for even it to overcome.
“The region and local community should be assured that as we continue to refine and develop viable corridor concepts for this area, it will include extensive engagement with community leaders and the community as a whole,” FDOT Secretary Jared Perdue said.
I realize this is not the final no-build the anti-turnpike folks were looking for, but it’s darn close. That quote tells me we never need to worry about someone showing up unannounced with a shovel and hard hat telling us progress is on the way.
— Difficult to say what this means from an election campaign standpoint. None of the county commission candidates have said much about the turnpike; in the House District 23 race, Tod Cloud and Paul Reinhardt are firmly no-build, but the issue hasn’t caught much traction.
Politically, the county commission scored a winner with the public by backing no-build.
This decision will sit well with a lot of people. It’s a good feeling going into the weekend.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.