Robert Esposito

The Hernando-Citrus Metropolitan Planning Organization unanimously chose Robert Esposito as its new executive director - pending his approval of a contract offer.

The Hernando-Citrus Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) voted 7-0 Thursday to pay $248,500 to its consultant, Kimley-Horn and Associates, to conduct a feasibility study on the proposed Turkey Oak bypass.

The reason: Once the Suncoast Parkway opens early next year, it is expected to dump a huge amount of traffic on State Road 44. Many will head west toward Crystal River, clogging up the downtown area.

That’s why Crystal River officials have been pushing for this study to find out whether using Turkey Oak as an alternate, faster way to get to U.S. 19 will lighten congestion and prevent bottlenecks.

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“This is a big deal for our city,” said Crystal River Mayor and MPO alternate member Joe Meek at Thursday’s meeting.

Kimley Horn will consider two things: whether Turkey Oak can handle the projected increase in vehicles given its current pavement conditions and how it would affect other roads in the area. 

MPO member and Hernando County Commissioner John Allocco, questioned the need for a study, given that the parkway will come regardless of a bypass.

William Roll, with Kimley-Horn, told Allocco to imagine his house has a long driveway and a big store moves right next door. Chances are good, he said, people will start parking in your driveway.

That’s the purpose of the study — to determine if there is some way to reduce congestion in an area not intended for a huge influx of traffic — namely, downtown Crystal River, he said.

Inverness City Councilman and MPO member Cabot McBride questioned the study’s steep price tag.

Roll said this is not merely a planning study. Engineers, for example, will be taking core samples from the road to determine the thickness of the pavement. 

If the bypass option proves untenable, the study will suggest other options, Roll said.

The Florida Department of Transportation will pay for the study.

The bypass study should take one year. If the idea proves feasible, the battle for a funding source begins before construction begins.

New executive director 

Also Thursday, the board unanimously chose Robert Esposito to replace former Executive Director Steve Diez, who died recently. Esposito is the government affairs liaison with the FDOT, District 7 in Tampa.

Esposito cited his close ties over the last eight-plus years with FDOT that will allow him to push forward projects and “connect the dots” between the counties and the state.

He’s been the MPO’s liaison who already knows the players and is familiar with the transportation needs of both counties, board members said.

Esposito cited several road projects he wants to move forward, including the widening of U.S. 41 in Citrus County.

Hernando County Human Resources Director Michelle Posewitz said she will draw up a professional contract for Esposito and present it, along with a salary range, to the MPO.

Contact Chronicle reporter Michael D. Bates at 352-563-3205 or mbates@chronicleonline.com. To see more of his stories, visit  tinyurl.com/y6kb23vv.