Extension of Suncoast Parkway takes steps forward

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By Pat Faherty

When Citrus County leaders head to Tallahassee next month for Legislative Day, one point they plan to make is the need for Suncoast Parkway 2.

The 27-mile project is an expansion of Suncoast Parkway 1, which ends in north Hernando County. As planned, the parkway would continue through Citrus County and end on U.S. 19, north of County Road 488. The divided four-lane toll road would have interchanges at U.S. 98 in Hernando County — where it presently ends — State Road 44 and U.S. 19 in Citrus County.

The project started in 1998 when the Florida Department of Transportation decided to build the expansion, allowing it to move forward. Preliminary work took place during the next several years, until it was derailed by the recession with 60 percent of the planning complete.

Although no construction money is available, limited activity could eventually help get it going again.

“We have some right-of-way money budgeted,” said Christa Deason, public information officer with Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise. “It’s not in our five-year work program for construction.”

“We expect to complete a projected traffic and revenue study later this spring,” she continued. “We need to re-evaluate it.”

She explained it is a financial feasibility study to determine whether the extension can generate enough traffic to pay for itself. Results should be available this summer.

She said they have done some advance acquisitions, but the project will require a lot of right of way — more than 100 parcels of land expected to cost about $150 million.

“The money budgeted is not going to pay for that; we have $5 million in a year,” she said. “That’s a step forward; that’s how it always starts, advance purchase of right of way.”

Progress has been made in another vital area, but unrelated to funding. In January, the Department of Environmental Protection determined Suncoast 2 is environmentally feasible. As a result, FDOT Secretary Ananth Prasad tweeted about the news as a significant milestone for Suncoast 2.

Also in January, the Tampa Bay Partnership, including Citrus County, listed completion of the project by 2020 as one of its 2013 regional priorities. The project has been a priority of the Economic Development Council, which links it to the future development of Port Citrus.

“This is one of our main focuses at this point,” said Ardath Pendergast, manager of economic development and projects for the Citrus County Economic Development Council. “We really do see the importance of the Suncoast 2 extension for Citrus County.”

The extension could also play a role in the revitalization of Crystal River, said Eric Williams, Citrus County director of Geographic Resources and Community Planning. He explained a future trail using the old CSX rail connection could link to the bike trail from Tampa that will be extended up Suncoast 2 and have a major economic impact.

Contact Chronicle reporter Pat Faherty at 352-564-2924 or pfaherty@chronicleonline.com.