One day many years ago I was walking through Inverness and saw then-City Manager Frank DiGiovanni standing on the corner of Dampier and Seminole, a few steps outside old city hall, looking off into the distance.
“If you’re waiting for the Crown bus, it’s not coming,” I told him.
He kept looking around, talking to himself.
“Gotta do something about this corner,” he said. “Hmm. I’ll figure it out.”
Not sure what he was trying to figure out, or if he ever did. All I saw was a busy city intersection. DiGiovanni, though, saw something else.
Saturday night a whole bunch of people, thousands actually, participated in the city’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony at Liberty Park. Many bunched up along the Big Lake Henderson seawall watching the holiday boat parade, or crowded the Depot pavilion for a craft and art fair.
While disgruntled politicians are critical of DiGiovanni’s leadership in the Depot District project (though, ironically, those same politicians participated in its development as well so I’m not sure what their beef is), none of this happens without a city manager who could see it all.
Not just Inverness. Friday night, we attended the tree lighting ceremony in Crystal River at its town square. Twenty years ago this was an empty lot used for parking. One business owner wanted to rezone it for a funeral home crematorium.
Instead, someone in the city had a vision for this property and, wow, look at what’s there now. Crystal River took a nagging problem and turned it into an extraordinary city asset because someone refused to give up on it.
Both cities have had visionaries, either on staff, city council, or public, or a combination, that created community gems out of a blank canvas.
What, you may wonder, has this to do with today’s photo of the intersection of C.R. 491 and W. Hampshire Boulevard?
I’ll tell you: This is Citrus County’s next great traffic nightmare in the making, and it’s going to take some vision so it doesn’t become yet another T-intersection with a traffic signal.
A little bit about this area, as I drive through it several times weekly. It’s on the edge of Citrus Springs; Hampshire divides it from Pine Ridge. It’s been discovered, sort of, meaning there’s some house construction but not a ton.
The intersection is one of the worst planned in the county. There is no right turn lane from Hampshire, no left turn lane. There are two business plazas off Hampshire fronting 491, but neither has access to the highway, so the only way in and out of those businesses onto 491 is at Hampshire.
So, if you want to turn right onto 491 but the three cars in front you are turning left, guess what? You’re stuck until they get the left turn opening. At certain times of the day, particularly early morning, that can be a long and frustrating wait.
It’s a particularly fast moving section of 491. Approaches from both the north and south have a bit of a curve or slight rise, so it’s not an easy turn in either direction off Hampshire.
A few months back Beverly Hills/Pine Ridge business leaders sent the county a series of questions in an email. Among them was when to expect the four-laning of that section of 491 between Pine Ridge Boulevard and Deltona. The answer: 10 years at the earliest.
Meanwhile, from what I’ve read here and there, thousands of new homes are planned for the Central Ridge sections of Pine Ridge, Beverly Hills and Citrus Springs. We’re encouraging growth to the one area of the county that doesn’t have the road network to handle it.
Next year the county is expected to start construction to complete the four-laning of C.R. 491 between S.R. 44 and C.R. 486. Great, except that thing is already a decade too late. Meanwhile, the two-lane 491 pinch point north of Beverly Hills is 10 years away from anything being done with it, or so we’re told.
Our new county commission and administrator have their work cut out for sure, but I’m hoping with strategic planning comes vision beyond the norm.
We don’t need yet another traffic signal at W. Hampshire and 491. We need someone to look at this intersection and see what the rest of us don’t see.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.