Time for rubber to meet the road
Let's bury certain words and phrases.
"IF the Suncoast Parkway comes to Citrus County…"
"WHEN the parkway comes to Citrus County…"
"ALL THAT TRAFFIC" from the parkway into Citrus County…
Speculation has ended. From now on, it’s actual life.
The Suncoast Parkway opens today between U.S. 98 and State Road 44, finishing a four-year construction job on time and ending a decades-long battle over whether Citrus County is urban or rural.
It is a huge day in this county's history.
The parkway’s opening in Lecanto will either be a boon or bane to Citrus County, and anyone who thinks he/she knows today what that will be is spitting in the wind.
The truth is we just don’t know. None of us. Whether you moved from Fort Lauderdale to Pine Ridge last week, or you’ve had your finger on the parkway pulse since the 20th century, it’s all guess work till now.
No one in Citrus County has ever experienced the opening of a limited-access expressway in this fashion. I’m not saying this sort of thing hasn’t happened before. It hasn’t happened HERE.
Politicians over the years have tried to predict what will happen. So have the anti-parkway people. It’ll be awesome! It’ll be terrible!
It’ll be… It’ll be…
I spent the weekend reviewing stories I wrote at the Chronicle prior to Suncoast 1 opening in 2001 and in the years since then. Man, so many words about something that hasn’t happened yet. It was like writing about a hurricane watch for 20 years.
I also drove the county for one last pre-parkway peek. The photo with today’s blog is taken from the Cardinal Street overpass looking north.
It brought back vague memories of standing on the parkway pavement in Hernando County for the ribbon-cutting of Suncoast 1, and wondering how long it would be before the road would continue north, if ever.
So, yeah, whether you’ll be first in line to take the drive or swear it off forever, it’s a pretty significant day in Citrus County. Of course I have some observations:
— Two people on my mind today: Jim Kimbrough and Janet Masaoy. Kimbrough is the retired bank executive from Crystal River who is the Suncoast Parkway’s biggest backer. Before anybody in Citrus County was pushing for this road, Jim was pushing for it. Jim has a saying about how so long as it snows in the North and the warm sun shines in Florida, people will move here --- and he’s right. Transportation is the economic driver for that growth.
Janet Masaoy was a petite Pine Ridge woman who started COST — Citizens Opposed to the Suncoast Tollway. Hard to believe today, but at one point it was a tossup at least whether Citrus County wanted the parkway or not. Janet, who died in 2013, was a fierce opponent whose group could not be ignored.
Jim and Janet were on opposite ends of the parkway spectrum, but they both played significant roles in Suncoast 2.
— Guess we’re going to find out if “all that traffic” is real or imagined. That’s been the rallying cry of the pro-parkway forces since the start, that the parkway must continue north through Citrus so that not to dump “all that traffic” on our roads.
Has it materialized from Suncoast 1? Hard to say. That large commercial presence on U.S. 98/19 near Sugarmill Woods certainly didn’t materialize out of thin air. On the other hand, anyone who drives the parkway regularly knows the traffic drops to nil north of S.R. 50.
— I seriously had doubts at times whether this day would happen. I bet a lot of people had those doubts. But they didn't give up and they are to be commended. Whether you think this road is a good idea or not, that tenacity is pretty impressive. Remember, unlike Suncoast 1, Suncoast 2 is all Citrus County. It's our toll road.
Someone really should compile a list of the Suncoast Parkway 2's Hall of Fame inductees. Let me think on that. Those folks should be recognized. Just my opinion.
— Here’s another phrase we can now bury: ARE WE READY?
We’re ready. We’re more than ready. Cut the ribbon, move the rubber cones and let’s get this show on the road.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 35 years.