That’s how long residents, government officials, politicians and motorists have waited for the Florida Department of Transportation to follow through on promises to widen U.S. 41 between Inverness and Hernando in Citrus County.
Even though construction on the first 1-mile stretch began Oct. 2, officials gathered Thursday to mark the occasion.
Longtime city officials recall the state telling them 20 years ago that construction was imminent. Instead, they lamented a series of delays over the years.
At one time, former City Manager Frank DiGiovanni told City Council members, “I may not understand the reason, but seemingly they will not make U.S. 41 North a priority until gridlock is achieved.”
All of yesteryear’s bad feelings have dissolved, as the city’s U.S. 41 thoroughfare is now riddled with construction barrels and heavy equipment.
“We may have been a little grumpy and complaining at times,” Mayor Bob Plaisted said. “This is really a good omen for the future.”
The $45 million project will take two years to complete. Before it’s finished, work will start on the next mile of widening. Design work and buying right of way have started for the remainder of the highway widening to State Road 200 in Hernando.
FDOT District 7 Secretary David Gwynn acknowledged the long wait for Inverness and Citrus County.
“This project is much needed,” he said. “Communities are at the center of everything we do at FDOT.”
Citrus County Commission Chair Holly Davis noted construction plans include newly designed intersections to allow easier access.
“The whole craziness of that will get straightened out,” she said. “This is a major, major step in the right direction.”
Inverness City Manager Eric Williams said the U.S. 41 widening has had “literally decades of community engagement” with FDOT.
“It’s really going to affect people’s lives,” he said.
The road widening includes a new entrance to Whispering Pines Park, one of two county regional parks. About 200,000 people a year visit Whispering Pines and the entrance on U.S. 41 should increase those numbers, Williams said.
Gwynn said U.S. 41 is not a part of the Strategic Intermodal System, or SIS. The SIS consists of state roads that have regional connectivity, such as U.S. 19, and those projects take higher priority.
Plus, the state divided the U.S. 41 widening into smaller segments to spread out right-of-way and construction costs.
He doesn’t see any slowdown: “It will continue to move forward.”