In the last two weeks, three Citrus County residents in the making have reached out to me with similar stories about the potential turnpike extension from Wildwood.
They’re about to move in, they’re about to pick a lot to build on, or they’re ready to roll once the parkway opens — and all are alarmed at a toll road they hadn’t counted on.
Sunday’s email came from a very nice gentleman who’s looking to move here with his wife from Southwest Florida. He was visiting Citrus Springs and heard of the turnpike extender project idea.
He wanted to know what I knew. I told him it’s the state politicians pushing the project and no one around here seems too excited about it. Unless you don’t want it. Those people are very intense about it.
So it appears the pieces are falling into place for a smackdown on the turnpike. Already I’ve read, on this blog actually, that the anti-turnpike forces are preparing to show up at the county commission’s Feb. 22 meeting to speak. (Coincidental to the turnpike issue, Commissioner Ruthie Davis Schlabach asked for a special 5:30 p.m. “open to the public” to provide folks who can’t make the 1:30 p.m. comment section a chance to tell commissioners what’s on their minds.)
Those of us who suffered through the nightmarish debate on the Suncoast Parkway 20 years ago do not relish another swipe at that apple. In the hopes of narrowing the focus somewhat:
— First of all, do not fear the debate. We need a decent focal point to help answer the What Comes Next after the parkway question and a totally separate toll road extension project will help with that. Plus, we’re all toll road experts by now.
— That said, what exactly are we debating? Whether the turnpike should be extended at all? Whether it goes through Citrus County? Or part of it?
There’s been no “official” take from anyone yet, though county commission Chairman Ron Kitchen Jr. sort of threw his team a curve at the leadership summit when he said the “no build” option shouldn’t be an option and does anyone have an objection to that? No one had an objection, so representatives of the county commission, city councils and school board are on record supporting the turnpike extension somewhere.
The state says it’ll narrow the four possible routes down to one by summer which, frankly, isn’t too assuring for people who wonder if anyone’s watching the store, if you get my drift.
It’s certainly fair for the public to expect their elected leaders, starting with the county commission, to help guide the community discussion now about the turnpike. Waiting until after the state picks a route seems silly.
At the very least commissioners should follow up that leadership summit with a discussion on what comes next. If they truly are going to sit on their hands until FDOT tells us the route, commissioners need to say it. The public might not like that approach, though.
—The third part of this discussion is what’s the benefit? It can’t be “growth”. We’re way past those days folks. The benefit I’m looking for is direct to Citrus County. Simple: Does Citrus prosper with a turnpike or not?
During that whole parkway debate, the pro-parkway crowd had two arguments: Citrus County would get stuck with gobs of traffic if the parkway ended at U.S. 98; and there was an economic benefit to tying Citrus with Tampa Bay.
The second argument gained more traction over time. From a regional economic standpoint, and a transportation one, Citrus is with Hernando, Pasco, Hillsborough, Pinellas counties. The parkway makes perfect regional sense.
No one has even pitched the same argument for the turnpike extension. The turnpike would connect Citrus to Orlando and Miami. That gets a big yawn around here.
On the face of it, this idea seems destined for numerous roadblocks at the least. And I’m sure we’ll hear all about it on the campaign trail.
So let’s not get all hysterical for or against the turnpike, OK? But now’s as good a time as any to get it out there.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.