Citrus County officials eager, anxious as Suncoast Parkway opening approaches

suncoast parkway
'It’s not going to be a tsunami. It’s going to take some time.'

The biggest 2021 story in Citrus County won’t actually take place until 2022.

That’s when the 13-mile stretch of the Suncoast Parkway opens between U.S. 98 in northern Hernando County and State Road 44 in Lecanto.

Citrus County officials have eyed the parkway project ever since what’s known as Suncoast 1 opened in 2001, connecting Tampa Bay through Pasco and Hernando counties practically to Citrus’s doorstep.

And now, with the opening of Suncoast 2 likely just weeks away, Citrus County is wondering just what is coming up that road – and when.

“Traffic is not going to go crazy overnight,” Commissioner Holly Davis said. “It’s not going to be a tsunami. It’s going to take some time.”

Indeed, Florida Department of Transportation traffic projections show a modest bump to Citrus County’s road network – 6,200 vehicles a day at S.R. 44 when it opens and 7,900 a day by 2030.

By contrast, the intersection of U.S. 19 and S.R. 44 in the heart of Crystal River sees 24,000 vehicles a day, according to Citrus County traffic counts.

Citrus County officials have long said they didn’t want interchanges to mirror the commercial density seen at Interstate 75 exits in Wildwood or Ocala. The County Commission on Tuesday is expected to approve an interchange management area study for S.R. 44.

They also hoped to stave off cookie-cutter commercial growth at the Cardinal Street interchange in May by approving a town center-type of zoning overlay that encourages compact, walkable development on what is now a mostly rural stretch of roadway.

Another unknown: When northbound motorists hit the parkway’s end at S.R. 44, are they turning left or right?

Left is toward Crystal River, where officials have already seen significant traffic congestion on S.R. 44 and U.S. 19, leading a push for the state to make improvements to North Turkey Oak Drive as a bypass.

“I’m very nervous about the traffic it’s going to push through Crystal River,” City Manager Ken Frink said.

At the city’s request, the Hernando-Citrus Metropolitan Planning Organization, or MPO, approved a $248,500 consultant study of the bypass and likely traffic patterns that will emerge from the parkway.

State Rep. Ralph Massullo’s budget requests include $20.7 million for Turkey Oak upgrades.

Frink said with the state’s plans to continue the parkway north to County Road 486 and eventually to U.S. 19, the city needs to divert traffic.

“It’s just killing us in the downtown area,” he said.

Another school of thought is parkway motorists will turn right at S.R. 44, heading toward the county’s Central Ridge communities or north to Ocala. 

Inverness City Manager Eric Williams said, with the state also pursuing potential routes for an extension of the Florida Turnpike between Wildwood and U.S. 19, that puts his city in the possible crosshairs.

“I do share the belief that with an east-west connector to I-75, a large majority of people exiting Suncoast 2 will be heading east to 75,” he said.

Inverness in November approved a bump in its residential density zoning to encourage the development of affordable apartments and condominiums. While the city faced pushback from citizens who said the city’s road network couldn’t handle higher density, Williams said the city needs affordable housing for its service industry workers.

“We are a service-based economy through and through,” he said. “They need someplace affordable to live. It’s a gap that needs filling.”

Davis said the county might not even notice the parkway’s impact for some time.

“I don’t see a daily deluge of traffic,” she said, “off the Suncoast right away.”

Mike Wright

Mike Wright is a former reporter with the Citrus County Chronicle, where he had covered county government and politics since 1987. Mike's skills as an investigative reporter earned him first-place awards in investigative writing. Mike also helped the Chronicle win the Frances Devore Award for Public Service in 2002.


8 comments

  • tom palmer

    January 1, 2022 at 4:34 pm

    Another urban sprawlway. All you have to do is to watch what happened elsewhere when these toll roads opened. More rooftops, fewer treetops
    .

    • Vicki Clement

      January 1, 2022 at 5:20 pm

      And with that the crime rates goes up. We moved away from Lutz because of the explosion of subdivisions being built. No more grass. Farm land was gobbled up to build more housing. Lutz was a quaint little town like Inverness is. Not anymore. We came to get away from that and fell in love with Inverness. I am afraid that what happened to Wesley Chapel will happen here. The traffic there is horrible now. I really don’t want to have to move again to get peace and quiet.

  • Babs

    January 2, 2022 at 9:56 pm

    Goodbye rural way of life. Goodbye unique one of a kind communities like Pine Ridge Equestrian Community, home to a bird sanctuary and a large gopher tortoise population and coyote packs and bobcats
    and a unique system of horse trails safe to ride
    through. Hello traffic and speeding and more accidents and noise pollution and light pollution and crime and all the other headaches that come with it all. And it is so confusing for elder drivers to add all of these complicated high speed multi-lane highways. I’ve seen people get confused and turn too soon on divided highways and drive into traffic. It’s only gonna get worse.

  • JoAnne

    January 3, 2022 at 8:23 am

    We don’t want it. This is called the Nature Coast for a reason. We moved here to get away from heavy traffic and development. Thanks to the county commissioners for not caring what we want. More apartment buildings? No thanks.

    • Bethany Forstart

      January 14, 2022 at 9:00 am

      SPOT ON JoAnne.. spot on.

  • Nadeene Horak

    January 3, 2022 at 10:43 pm

    There are pros & cons to everything in life. We live in a state where everyone wants to move to. When I read other comments, they usually start with ‘we moved here to get away from _____’ . Fill in the blank with any word you want. So why can’t others move here for the same exact reason? This is called growth management and with all the growth that happens to Florida DAILY it must be addressed. One thousand people a day move to Florida to stay. I think the Suncoast Parkway is the best thing that has happened to Citrus County. The last hurricane that hit our coastline south of us had Highway 19 in gridlock for days due to people evacuating before and after the storm. Smart people understand that we must plan for the future & the future is now.

    • Bethany Forstart

      January 14, 2022 at 8:59 am

      Wrong.. smart people know what this is really about. The others make it all about “feelings.” And those are the ones who will complain first.. wake up.

  • Bethany Forstrat

    January 14, 2022 at 8:56 am

    What do they mean, ” Watch what is coming,?” what dummy did not already put that into the equation BEFORE deciding to build? Who does that? What did any thinking person think was coming? Peace? Quiet? Greener pastures? Less crime? Lower property taxes? NO.. the reason this was built was for PURE GREED.. MONEY TO MAKE AT THE EXPENSE OF THE PEOPLE. I have seen this in my own rural community. The developers get rich, the Commissioners get kickbacks, and the local people are left with the crap shoved down their throats, from elected people who DO NOT CARE about them. Same ole’ same ole.” Happens everywhere.. When you start to hear the term, “affordable housing?” You better sell, and fast. Trust me, happening in my state. We never saw it coming… they came in through the back door, under the guise of “progress.”

Comments are closed.


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