Lynda Wagner of Citrus Hills doesn’t want a major toll road coming through her neighborhood disturbing the tranquility.
“It would be like urban sprawl,” she said. “It will be the death of all of us. We have such a beautiful county and we want to keep it that way.”
Hundreds of Citrus County residents feel the same and let their concerns be known Thursday night. The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) held an open-house style meeting at the College of Central Florida in Lecanto on a proposed northern extension of Florida’s Turnpike from where it now ends at Interstate 75 in Wildwood.
“It looks like it goes right through our backyard,” said Mary Ellen Craver, who lives in Canterbury Lakes Estates in Hernando. “We came here for peace and quiet 12 years ago. So far so good. I don’t want to hear thousands of cars going by every day.”
The crowd milled about during the two-hour informal event – meeting with transportation officials, viewing displays and watching videos.
Four potential routes are on the table, with the proposed extension linking the turnpike with the Suncoast Parkway somewhere between Crystal River and Chiefland. All of them go through the rural areas of Citrus, Sumter, Marion and Levy counties.
And disrupting the rural quality of life was the big objection people had.
“People don’t want to see the congestion, like in south Florida,” said Michael McGrath, the Sierra Club’s community organizer who gathered comments from attendees. “It’s called the Nature Coast for a reason.”
Folks representing the No Roads to Ruin Coalition passed out green “No Build” signs to people as they arrived at the college. Their fear is the toll road will cause a rise in bedroom communities as commuting workers try to escape the urban centers.
“I think it would change the quality of life for people,” said Matthew Schwartz, director of the Florida Wildlands Association. “New roads don’t relieve congestion. They facilitate new development.”
Every one of the four proposed routes cuts through wildlife corridors, he said.
The state has called for an extension of the turnpike from its current ending point near Wildwood to “a logical and appropriate terminus” as determined by FDOT.
That terminus has yet to be decided.
Potential alignments show it could go west and hooking up with the Suncoast Parkway in Crystal River on U.S. 19 or going through Marion County east of Dunnellon and taking a more roundabout route to Levy County.
FDOT spokeswoman Angela Starke said her agency will gather the input from Thursday’s meeting to planners as they discuss routes. A similar meeting was held Tuesday in Levy County and drew 500 people, she said.
Starke stressed that the state is in the “very early stage” of planning and there is a long way to go.
Starke said the extension: would enhance connections between towns/cities; provide a hurricane evacuation route; be safer than driving back roads; and address population growth.
Starke said input from environmental groups, state and federal officials would be included in the planning.
And the possible negative environmental effects are the biggest fear at this point. Environmental groups argue the projects would bring sprawling development and damage natural habitats.
Josh Wooten, president and CEO of the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce, was there gathering information. The chamber does not yet have a position.
“Citrus County citizens have accepted that the Suncoast Parkway is a reality,” he said. “We want to make sure the cost-benefits are there (for a turnpike extension).”
Glenn Stephens of Dunnellon saw the proposed routes, met with representatives and will now weigh the benefits.
“It’s kind of vague,” he said. “Florida needs an outlet for more traffic but why not just fix existing roads?”
Stephens said he fears his home values will decrease should a route come near his property.
Still, he’s glad he attended.
“I came out to see (what’s going on),” he said. “I’ll keep my eye on it.”
The Florida Legislature asked that a report be drafted summarizing the status of a Project Development and Environmental (PD&E) turnpike study to be sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis and other lawmakers by Dec. 31, 2022.
To learn more about the project and view proposed alignments, visit www. floridasturnpike.com/NTE
Material from News Service of Florida was used in this report.