The state is putting the brakes on the Northern Turnpike Extension, concluding that it makes better sense to make improvements to Interstate 75 than build a new corridor through rural communities.
The news, first reported Wednesday evening on the Just Wright Citrus blog, is a major victory for environmental groups and local governments in Citrus, Levy, Marion and Sumter counties that fought against four proposed routes connecting the turnpike at Wildwood to the Suncoast Parkway.
Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) officials began contacting elected officials in the four counties by phone this week in anticipation of a formal announcement in the coming days.
“What really moved the FDOT was votes from the various County Commissions,” Rep. Ralph Massullo said.
Citrus County Commissioner Ruthie Davis Schlabach, who opposed the turnpike extension through Citrus, said she was pleased to see FDOT remove those routes off the table.
“We shouldn’t be the solution to the turnpike when we do not even benefit from the turnpike or benefit from 75,” she said. “Why do we have to fix the problems when they’re not ours to begin with?”
The turnpike extension was one of three projects studied by M-CORES — Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance.
Three task forces met for several months, and from that FDOT decided to drop a pair of toll road ideas: Extending the Suncoast Parkway from Citrus County to Interstate 10, and the Southwest Central Florida Connector between Polk and Collier counties.
The M-CORES task force said it didn’t have enough information to determine whether the turnpike should be extended or not. However, it did recommend expanding traffic capacity on existing roadways, such as I-75 and U.S. 27, to achieve the same goal without building additional roadways.
But legislators kept one project: extending Florida’s Turnpike from Wildwood to intersect with the Suncoast Parkway or U.S. 19 somewhere in Citrus or Levy counties.
FDOT’s initial studies showed four potential routes. Citizens groups, such as No Roads to Ruin, successfully lobbied county and municipal governments in the affected areas to issue “no-build” resolutions.
Citrus County was one of the last, concluding that no-build was the best alternative.
FDOT, which is required to provide an updated report to the Legislature by year’s end, reached a similar finding following public hearings and local governments weighing in.
FDOT Secretary Jared W. Perdue said the agency will partner with communities on any movement forward.
“The goal of every project is to ensure all needs are met, environmental concerns are addressed, and community characteristics are protected. The region and local community should be assured that as we continue to refine and develop viable corridor concepts for this area, it will include extensive engagement with community leaders and the community as a whole,” he said.
In the near term, to help address regional and statewide transportation needs, FDOT is dedicating resources to prioritize improvements on the I-75 corridor. Much of the feedback received from local communities during the study recommended reviewing and prioritizing solutions for the I-75 corridor as part of the overall process.
The state, however, is not closing the door entirely on a turnpike extension. Massullo, a Lecanto Republican, said FDOT will continue to study ways to move travelers about.
“There’s going to have to be an east-west connector in the central part of the state,” he said.