County commissioners backed the “no build” option for the northern turnpike extension – at least for those routes that would go through Citrus County.
The board at a workshop Tuesday unanimously and enthusiastically asked staff to draft a resolution that would take three of the southernmost corridors – the ones that would affect Citrus – off the table.
Commissioners will revisit the issue at an upcoming regular business meeting where they can formally vote on the matter or tweak the resolution before sending it to the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT).
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“We don’t need this in our county,” said Commissioner Scott Carnahan, who has consistently called himself a “no-builder” and against all four of FDOT’s proposed routes.
Commissioners Holly Davis, Ron Kitchen Jr. and Ruthie Schlabach were prepared to do the same until Commissioner Jeff Kinnard offered a modification.
Kinnard proposed throwing out the three routes going through Citrus County but left the door open for FDOT to gather more input and encourage the agency to seek transportation alternatives.
The commission chambers was packed with “no-build” folks, homeowners associations and environmental advocacy groups from inside and outside Citrus County who oppose the turnpike for various reasons including destruction of the environment, the ruination of homes and businesses in the path of the turnpike, loss of the county’s rural flavor and urban sprawl.
The FDOT said a new northern extension is needed to enhance regional connectivity, accommodate increased traffic demand necessitated by population growth, relieve congestion on Interstate 75 and improve hurricane evacuation. The agency proposed four corridor alternatives to accomplish those goals.
Commissioners all said they appreciate what FDOT has done for Citrus County but this extension proposal has not been vetted enough.
“I don’t see this as financially feasible,” Commissioner Ruthie Schlabach said.
Commissioner Holly Davis said economic development is “immensely important” in Citrus County and more high-paying jobs are needed.
Regional transportation is the means to achieve that goal, she said, but not at the cost of potentially harming the environment and sacrificing the small-town charm of Citrus County, she said.
“I don’t feel the transportation authorities have proven the need,” Davis said.
Kitchen said this northern extension is premature by maybe 30-40 years.
“We need good roads but we also need to protect what we have,” he said.
Several audience members said there is no documented need for a new highway. The smart option, they said, is to improve I-75 and connector roads to relieve congestion on Interstate 75 from Wildwood to Gainesville.
“But a new freeway to U.S. 19 doesn’t solve that problem,” he said.
Bill White, mayor of Dunnellon who owns property in Citrus County, told commissioners that in his 50-plus years living in Florida, he’s seen counties to the south become traffic gridlocks due to road building.
“Don’t be hoodwinked into thinking roads relieve congestion, he said. “It creates congestion.”
White said the city of Dunnellon listened to its constituents and adopted a no-build policy. He urged county commissioners here to do the same.
Two FDOT representatives gave a brief presentation saying the state is early in the process and is still soliciting public input before agreeing on any particular route.
A status report is due to the governor and Legislature in December 2022, and public information meetings are tentatively scheduled for the first half of 2023.
Michael D. Bates is a staff writer with the Citrus County Chronicle and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org