Suncoast Parkway terminus

Construction on the Suncoast Parkway continues Monday, Feb. 22, near the intersection of State Road 44 between Lecanto and Crystal River. The House Appropriations Committee supported the proposal (SB 100) to do away with much of the plan — dubbed the Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance, or M-CORES.

The state budget crunch caused by the pandemic will not delay plans to eventually extend the Suncoast Parkway from State Road 44 in Citrus County and eventually to the north.

That assurance comes from Angela Starke, spokeswoman with Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise and others.

State transportation officials cut or delayed 77 road projects from a five-year plan as revenues dropped with more Floridians working remotely and people delaying travel plans because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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This year, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) had to make up $763 million from lost gas taxes, rental car fees, toll collections, and other state and federal sources.

The Suncoast Parkway 2 Phase 1 project is already under construction, extending the road 12.7 miles from U.S. 98 to State Road 44. It is scheduled to open in early 2022.

The state is now conducting engineering and design work on Phase 2 to continue the parkway another 3 miles to County Road 486, which was added to the state’s plans in 2016 at the county’s request because officials didn’t want the road stopped at S.R. 44. Construction on the extension is expected to start shortly after the U.S. 98-S.R. 44 leg is completed.

Starke said neither project phase is in jeopardy due to budgetary concerns.

“Suncoast Parkway 2 will directly link Citrus County with the Tampa Bay area,” she said. “This project supports north-south regional travel, future traffic needs in Citrus County, and includes a multi-use recreational trail along its west side (and) will improve mobility, enhance safety, and facilitate hurricane evacuation.”

FDOT has long used what is known as the five-year work program to map out projects.

In addition to the current-year impacts, the state agency faces a $2.91 billion reduction in revenue over the next five years.

Starting at $303.6 million in the current fiscal year, toll collections are expected to account for $1.558 billion of the hit to revenue through the 2025-2026 fiscal year. In the same time, the department is expected to be short another $1.097 billion in revenue generated by gas taxes, rental car surcharges, and motor-vehicle license fees, according to projections.

Senate President Wilton Simpson wants to shift plans for one of three controversial toll-road projects, months after saying funding for the projects could be cut amid a state revenue shortfall.

The Trilby Republican said last week a proposed northern extension of the Suncoast Parkway could be moved close to the route of U.S. 19, near the Gulf Coast, to lessen financial and environmental impacts and to bring the toll road closer to Tallahassee as it approaches Interstate 10.

“You could do it very similarly to the way we do in South Florida with (Interstate) 95 and the turnpike,” Simpson said. “They could run parallel with each other. You've already got a footprint within that environmental concern. And you could do that, and then that would be probably the best outcome for the environment. It would certainly cut the project size and scope down to a more manageable size and scope.”

Simpson said it doesn’t make sense to have the Suncoast Parkway end in Citrus County as it comes north out of the Tampa area. Under a plan approved by the Legislature in 2019, the parkway would be extended north to Jefferson County.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report

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