Happy Monday! We’re kicking off the week with a very special road that’s about to get some long-awaited attention.
I’ve been in the news biz around these parts a few years and cannot recall the U.S. 41 North widening in Inverness ever NOT being a story.
Seems like I was a young news pup decades ago writing about the city of Inverness moaning that the Florida Department of Transportation had, again, delayed movement on the widening of the two-lane state highway that connects Inverness and Hernando.
Why bring it up now? We’re about to get rolling.
Construction begins in October on the $21.6 million construction job to start the widening. Don't be too excited — it’s just 1 mile, between S.R. 44 in Inverness and the Withlacoochee State Trail bridge. The city business district section. The FDOT has a factsheet on the project.
The work will take close to two years. You read that right. Summer 2025 expected completion. Right now everyone in Crystal River and Homosassa who have dealt for years with U.S. 19 construction has a devilish grin for us east-siders.
Watson Civil Construction Inc. of Orlando has the contract. The company’s website shows a lot of high-dollar Florida road projects. Guess we’ll learn soon enough how that plays here in little ol’ Citrus County.
(A request: Can we refrain from taking shots at the contractor before it even sets up shop? I know our experience with road contractors is less than stellar but let’s give these folks a chance, OK? First time they block a business, though, gloves come off.)
After this section, the state will gradually widen a mile at a time until it reaches Arlington Street, the halfway point between Inverness and Hernando. While the plan is to widen it to State Road 200, that probably isn’t happening in any of my cat’s nine lives.
In terms of road projects, U.S. 41 is a very big deal. At least as big as the Suncoast Parkway. OK, not that big. But big.
Big enough to make a big deal about it.
I asked City Manager Eric Williams if the city had any plans to mark the occasion. He said that’s an FDOT call.
“This is something that would be promulgated by the state and the City would be glad to be involved,” he said.
Well, the state should promulgate. Because if there’s any road project deserving of a ground-breaking, it’s this one.
U.S. 41 North has had to sit by while other roads vaulted to the top of the priority list.
That the state thought it wise to widen U.S. 41 Inverness south three miles toward Floral City before doing the same on U.S. 41 North shows a somewhat extraordinary lack of foresight.
I drive to Spring Hill several mornings a week and take U.S. 41 into Hernando County. It’s a wonderful stretch of roadway, six lanes (not needed), then four, then two, breezing through historic Floral City, rolling and winding past Citrus County farms.
Here’s what it doesn’t have: A destination that draws traffic. The state widened a road to prepare for traffic that hasn’t materialized because a fairly rural area stayed fairly rural.
On the north side of town, meanwhile, we’re weeks away from wall-to-wall traffic. That roadway rectangle — bordered by U.S. 41, C.R. 486, Croft Avenue, and S.R. 44 — is the only way in and out of the county seat. I don’t need to tell you what those roads will look like once our snowbirds return.
The idea years ago that somehow, we’d need congestion relief on the south side of Inverness, which essentially goes nowhere, and not the north side, is a little mind-boggling.
That said, here we finally arrive. Nobody throws a ceremonial first pitch for local government and chamber of commerce types better than FDOT. Even with pre-construction activity taking place on U.S. 41 and the actual work starting in a few weeks, I hope we get something official for a photo-op.
The mayor and City Council members, at the very least, should meet the first bulldozer at dawn of Day 1 for a teary send-off.
I’m being only a little facetious. This is the city’s biggest public works project since the Courthouse Square as we know it came to be. U.S. 41 will not only be widened that one mile, we’re also getting a new entrance to Whispering Pines Park and other changes that everyone will notice.
The entryway into our city from the north will drastically change in the next two years, and it’s only the start.
No one likes road construction and we’re not going to enjoy this either. That’s OK.
We’ve waited a long time for a little inconvenience. Let’s get this party started.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.