Let’s start off Monday with a noncontroversial subject: Northern Turnpike extension.
The County Commission, not this week but next week, will invite citizens to offer their opinion on whether it’s a thumbs up/down on any or all of the potential alignments through Citrus County.
The board is then expected to eventually vote yes or no, which is a big deal in that the state won’t build the road without local support.
Commissioners should expect a flood of email this week about the turnpike — particularly from the no-build crowd, which has dug in quite well.
My feeling is the commissioners should tell the state thanks, but no thanks. I have three reasons:
— There’s no champion for the turnpike, no Jim Kimbrough.
I don’t remember when I met the retired bank executive, but you can bet he was talking up the Suncoast Parkway. This was at least 30 years ago.
He used to say, “As long as that white stuff keeps falling up country, and the sun keeps shining in Florida, people are coming to Florida.”
Kimbrough led the charge of business and political types who placed completion of the Suncoast Parkway into and through Citrus County the No. 1 transportation priority for YEARS.
Conversely, there is no one sounding the turnpike-extension trumpet in Citrus County. Yes, some folks here and there are backing it, but the vast majority of vocal opinion is negative.
Those pink no-build signs are everywhere, though truthfully the photo that accompanies today’s blog was taken in Yankeetown. I see a TON more of these signs in Levy and Marion counties.
With no local push, I don’t know how in the world county commissioners say yes.
— It’s bad public policy. Here’s what I mean:
Efficient government is borne from well-designed policy. It would make sense, for example, to study whether the Northern Turnpike extension is actually necessary and not destructive BEFORE just deciding to build the dang thing.
The Legislature didn’t do that. It simply voted to build the road. Yes, there’s a study included in the law but let’s be real. This turnpike extension is the result of politics, not proven need.
It’s a terrible way to govern. Unfortunately, it’s pretty common with big regional road projects. Heck, the Suncoast Parkway interchange at C.R. 486 is a perfect exemple. It was never in the state plans, but added at the request of Citrus County commissioners who thought this made better sense than completing the C.R. 491 widening in Lecanto.
When the government takes shortcuts, the public perceives sleight-of-hand. Especially with state attempts in the last 10 years to extend the parkway to I-75 or I-10. The opposition was fierce and killed both projects.
The state doesn’t seem to have a real focus on why we’re doing this turnpike extension, other than it appears another attempt to relieve I-75 traffic through Ocala and Gainesville. Not exactly a compelling argument for Citrus County.
— Terrible timing. I mean…seriously? The parkway opened this year, growth has gone nutso, roads are already congested, a huge election in August, the county government is imploding — and in all that the state wants us to decide NOW on another toll road that will alter the lives of thousands of Citrus County residents for years to come.
Our plates are full. To shoehorn a serious talk about the turnpike right now is totally unnecessary. We should tell the politicians to do this the right way, even if that means involving the public first.
No champion. Bad policy. Terrible timing.
All three spell a turnpike to nowhere.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.