Citrus County welcomes parkway in 2022, but says no to turnpike

'This situation, this turnpike, is not for Citrus County.'

Citrus County Commissioners spent much of 2022 tackling issues such as the Florida Turnpike extension, county administrator search and a monthslong dispute over library displays.

It was the turnpike discussion that will resonate in Citrus County for years to come.

The idea of extending Florida’s Turnpike between Wildwood and U.S. 19 near the expected completion of the Suncoast Parkway came from state politicians, not traffic studies or community needs.

It originated in the 2019 M-CORES — Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance — study. The brainchild of Senate President Bill Galvano, M-CORES set up task forces to study three toll road projects for construction starting in 2023:

— Extending the Suncoast Parkway from Citrus County to Interstate 10 in Jefferson County.

— Extending the Southwest-Central Florida Connector from Polk County to Collier County.

— Extending Florida’s Turnpike from Wildwood to an unknown point on U.S. 19.

After months of public hearings, including by Zoom during the height of the pandemic, the task forces panned all three, saying the state should instead look at adding lanes to existing facilities, such as Interstate 75, before building new roads.

SB 100 in 2021 repealed the mandate for the new roads, but kept intact funding for a study to extend the turnpike from Wildwood to U.S. 19 between Crystal River and Chiefland.

Opponents, led by the group No Roads to Ruin, gathered quickly and urged local governments in Citrus, Levy, Marion and Sumter counties to pass resolutions opposing the project.

Citrus County Commissioners did just that. In May, three months after the Suncoast Parkway opened at State Road 44 in Lecanto, the board said it would oppose any of the proposed turnpike routes through the county.

They went further in June, establishing a “no-build” opinion on any of the four proposed route corridors, including those that didn’t touch Citrus County.

“This situation, this turnpike, is not for Citrus County,” Commissioner Ruthie Davis Schlabach said.

In August, with near unanimous opposition of local governments in the region to the project, the Florida Department of Transportation announced it was stopping the study after reaching three conclusions:

— None of the four corridors were viable.

— They should expand the current road network, the same conclusion reached by task forces studying regional traffic issues.

— Before going this route again, the state will work in partnership with local governments and organizations.

The Northern Turnpike Extension status report to the Governor and Legislature urges continued study of regional road needs that complement I-75 with other transportation improvements in the area.

Meanwhile, the news is good for Citrus on the Suncoast Parkway. Construction is expected to begin in early 2023 on the 3-mile extension from State Road 44 to County Road 486. After that, funding is in place to continue construction of the parkway clear to U.S. 19 at Red Level, just north of Crystal River.

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.


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