Jim Tucker knows as much about the state’s plans for the Suncoast Parkway at Pine Ridge as anyone and even he is in the dark.
Two Citrus County commissioners who sit on task force groups designed to assist the state on Suncoast extension projects say they haven’t heard a word either about the parkway’s 3-mile extension from State Road 44 to C.R. 486.
And the Florida Department of Transportation isn’t saying much either. FDOT cancelled a planned open house in September, saying only that it is studying design alternatives. The meeting was not rescheduled.
The 44 to 486 extension has taken on many looks the last two years, and with state officials actively looking at extending the parkway to Interstate 10 or the Georgia border, it’s unknown what the extension will look like or even if it will happen at all.
State Rep. Ralph Massullo, R-Lecanto, said FDOT may use the C.R. 486 leg as the first phase in moving the Suncoast north.
“There would be a benefit to having a temporary terminus at 486,” Massullo said. “It would remove a lot of traffic off 44 at least temporarily until they’re able to build the next section of the Suncoast.”
To Tucker, a member of the Pine Ridge Property Owners Association Board of Directors, the issue is not so much whether there’s an interchange or terminus at C.R. 486, but where.
Preliminary state maps showed most potential routes landing at the Pine Ridge entrance doorstep. The association is asking the state to move it either to the west or east to keep Pine Ridge from becoming a thoroughfare with parkway traffic, and Massullo said he thinks that’s the approach FDOT will take.
“I hope that’s what they’re thinking,” Tucker said.
Early on, the only relationship between the Suncoast Parkway and C.R. 486 was an overpass.
Original plans for what is known as Suncoast 2 had it moving north through Citrus County from U.S. 98, to U.S. 19 at Red Level. It had three interchanges — Cardinal Street, S.R. 44 and C.R. 495 (Citrus Avenue).
While no money was set aside for construction, the state nonetheless put a total stop to the Suncoast 2 plans in 2009 due to the economic downturn. Then-Gov. Rick Scott revitalized the plans in 2015 with an ambitious goal of linking the parkway to Jacksonville, creating a route between Northeast Florida and Tampa Bay, while also serving as a traffic reliever to congested I-75. The first leg would be completing the parkway between U.S. 98 and S.R. 44 in Lecanto.
In 2016, Citrus County commissioners asked the state to consider moving the parkway 3 miles farther to C.R. 486. The stated reason at the time was the concern that C.R. 491 widening between S.R. 44 and C.R. 486 would not be completed, and ending the parkway at S.R. 44 would create a traffic mess on C.R. 491.
In the meantime, the state’s attempts to create a toll road to relieve freeway traffic failed. A task force recommended expanding current roads before building a new one, and proposals for a so-called Coastal Connector exploded in public outcry over the lands that would be spoiled by a toll road.
Citrus County commissioners continued to push for the C.R. 486 extension, but now for a different reason. C.R. 491 was no longer an issue because the county believed it would have the roadway widened close to the time the parkway was finished to S.R. 44. Commissioners instead urged the C.R. 486 extension in order to keep the road project continuing north and out of Citrus County.
Now even that concern is being addressed. The Legislature approved $45 million to study three toll roads, including two associated with the Suncoast Parkway, and pledged funds to have the roads built in the next 10 years.
Commissioners say they are confident of plans to keep the Suncoast heading north.
Commissioner Scott Carnahan said he doesn’t think the state will build a permanent exit.
“The Pine Ridge people are going to be OK,” he said. “There will not be an exit there.”
Massullo said he believes the state is looking to bring the interchange west of the Pine Ridge entrance, closer to the Duke Energy transmission line, with the idea of sending it farther north to U.S. 19 near Red Level.
He said his preference is for the state to keep the interchange at C.R. 486 even when it continues the project northward. Sending motorists from the parkway to I-75 is easier from C.R. 486 than S.R. 44, he said.
“486 is a much better road to take that traffic eastward,” he said.
Commission Chairman Jeff Kinnard said he realizes some Pine Ridge residents are antsy over the lack of detail from the state about the C.R. 486 segment of the parkway, but he urged patience in the wake of the Suncoast task forces, which will take a year to complete.
“There are several large pieces still moving,” he said. “They’re trying to figure out exactly how all this is going to come together.”