Parkway construction continues

Motorists drive under the overpass of the Suncoast Parkway on West Grover Cleveland Boulevard Friday, May 8, 2020. After months of virtual meetings because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Florida Department of Transportation announced Thursday that three “hybrid” meetings will be next week. Members of task forces working on each of the projects will meet online before public comment periods in which people can comment online or at designated locations.

The next round of meetings on controversial toll-road projects from Collier County to Jefferson County will be online and in person.

After months of virtual meetings because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Florida Department of Transportation announced dates Thursday for three “hybrid” meetings. Members of task forces working on each of the projects will meet online before public comment periods in which people can comment online or at designated locations.

Approved during the 2019 legislative session, the projects are intended to extend the Suncoast Parkway from Citrus County to Jefferson County; extend the Florida Turnpike west to connect with the Suncoast Parkway; and add a new multi-use corridor, including a toll road, from Polk County to Collier County.

People who attend the meetings will be required to wear masks and maintain social distancing, the department said in the announcement.

The first hybrid meeting is set for Tuesday, July 21,2020, on the Suncoast Parkway extension, with the public gathering locations at Riverside Christian School in Trenton and the Jefferson County K-12 A Somerset School in Monticello.

The turnpike extension meeting Wednesday, July 22, 2020, will be open at the Hilton Ocala and the Building Alliance Banquet Hall in Lecanto.

The Lee County Civic Center in North Fort Myers and the Jack Stroup Civic Center in Sebring will be open Thursday, July 23, 2020, for the meeting on the project from Collier and Polk counties.

Supporters of the projects say they will prepare the state for future growth and aid in disaster evacuations. Critics argue the roads will cut across naturally sensitive land and devastate rural areas.

An initial timeline called for the task forces to provide final reports by October, with construction expected to begin before the end of 2022. However, because of COVID-19, the deadline for the task-force reports has been pushed back to Nov. 15.