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Board to DOT: Return projects

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U.S. 41 funding, U.S. 19 path points of contention for county commissioners

By Mike Wright

Citrus County commissioners say they do not know why state agencies overturned three significant projects to the county’s detriment, but they know one thing:

They want the projects returned to their original position — now.

Commissioners voted to send a “unanimous and highly motivated” letter to the Florida Department of Transportation and the Hernando-Citrus Metropolitan Planning Organization demanding the return of about $20 million that had been set aside for buying right of way to widen U.S. 41 between State Road 44 and Arlington Street north of Inverness.

Commissioners also want the FDOT to eliminate roadside bicycle lanes from its plans for widening U.S. 19 in Homosassa in favor of a multi-purpose path, which had been part of the plans was but removed in exchange for sidewalks.

And commissioners learned Monday evening that the FDOT, based on recommendations from an MPO committee, decided to not build a $3 million overpass for the Dunnellon Trail connector. Instead, trail bikers and walkers will have a pavement crossing on U.S. 41.

Commissioners want the overpass returned as well.

Board Chairman Scott Carnahan was livid that projects were changed without MPO approval or, in the case of the trail overpass and right-of-way funding, its knowledge.

Carnahan aimed his criticism at MPO executive director Dennis Dix and suggested the county might be better off forming its own MPO.

“I’m very upset with the way he’s been doing things,” Carnahan said. “I’m not going to sit and watch funds get jerked out of our district for somewhere else.”

Carnahan said he believes the money that was planned for buying right of way on U.S. 41 this year instead went to another state road project in Pasco County, which has its own MPO.

State transportation officials say that isn’t true, but have also not responded to requests by a Chronicle reporter to provide copies of five-year work plans that would track the funds.

Dix said in November that construction on the 2-mile section of U.S. 41 was still 10 years away. He did not return a phone call seeking comment Tuesday.

The MPO is comprised of elected officials from Citrus and Hernando counties. Its purpose is to ensure regional support for state and federally funded transportation projects. All local FDOT projects are run by the MPO for a vote.

Commissioner Ron Kitchen Jr., one of two commissioners on the MPO board, said MPO staff — not the elected members of the board — made decisions regarding U.S. 41, the Dunnellon Trail overpass and the U.S. 19 multi-use path without MPO board approval.

That is exactly opposite of how the process is supposed to work, he said.

“We belong to an MPO so we can get our priorities out and we can track those priorities,” he said.

Commissioners also agreed to draft a resolution telling the FDOT that it wants multi-use paths on all state road widening projects and that the county will maintain those paths.

Contact Chronicle reporter Mike Wright at 352-563-3228 or mwright@chronicleonline.com.