Turnpike now? No. Never? Um...
At the risk of disrupting a perfectly good week I want to talk a little more about the Northern Turnpike extension.
As I said Monday, here are three reasons why the county commission should reject the state’s plans:
Not surprising, the no-build group has seen this as an endorsement of its position. Seems logical. Those folks don’t want the turnpike. Neither do I. So I’m a no-builder, right?
Um, not quite. Let me explain.
The turnpike is a bad idea now, for those three reasons and a few more I thought of since Monday. In fact, I can’t think of a single reason why the county commission would endorse such a plan now, when there is so little known and fairly fierce opposition.
That doesn’t mean it’ll forever be a bad idea. And this is where I split from the no-builders.
I had a talk the other night with someone in Citrus County who’s really dug in on statewide transportation planning. He could not understand why anyone in the county would OPPOSE the turnpike, seeing as the state is building a road so that cars can move through Citrus County without stopping at a zillion red lights.
This person said the county’s road network can only handle so much, that we’re pretty far behind on transportation planning, and the growth rate is expected to keep climbing. Why, this person wondered, would the county want to stand in the way of the state relieving that traffic?
While I’m not sure there’s a true rationale of the turnpike RELIEVING local traffic — more likely, it’s the opposite — the person made some valid points.
No-builders also have valid points, including that the state has ignored the recommendations of numerous task forces which all reached the same conclusion: Expand what you have now, such as adding lanes to I-75, before building an entirely new toll road through someone’s home or farmland.
At this stage, I’m not ready yet to join any one side. It’s not that we don’t have enough information — we have what we have — it’s just too dang early to stake a claim.
I had a long talk Tuesday with someone about this turnpike thing. No need to get into those weeds here, but I’ll say that it’s in the county’s best interest to leave the door a little ajar on this turnpike extension.
Here’s why: The Florida Department of Transportation wants and needs Citrus County’s cooperation in this turnpike idea. FDOT is getting no love to speak of in Marion or Levy counties. The counties north of Citrus have shown zero collective interest in any type of toll road plowing through their communities.
Suncoast 1, which connects the Veterans Expressway through Pasco and Hernando counties, generated quite the debate in the late 1990s. Very similar issues to what FDOT is hearing now, but the one thing transportation planners counted on was the support in Citrus County to keep the road moving northward in some direction.
FDOT needs Citrus County’s help if it is ever going to get that turnpike to the parkway or U.S. 19.
And that puts Citrus in the catbird’s seat. For that reason alone, the county would be wise to not totally shut the door on the turnpike.
— The county commission doesn’t have a big-picture land planner to help understand how the turnpike fits or doesn’t. That’s another reason to say no now, but I certainly hope that once we settle with a new county administrator and two new commissioners we’ll end up with a staff that can help guide us.
I don’t want to say no forever to the turnpike without knowing whether there’s logic to it or not.
— The county is about to undergo a year-long process to shape a strategic plan. Incorporating a turnpike into the county’s transportation network has strategic planning written all over it.
Let me close with this:
I’m just about the conversation. That’s all. I want us to dissect this thing. It could be horrible. It could be incredible. Or something in the middle.
“No” is the only logical answer at the moment. But we’d be crazy to completely bar the door.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 35 years.