I-75 file shot for Coastal Connector stories

In order to relieve traffic on I-75 as well as provide another west-coast evacuation route, state transportation officials considered building a Coastal Connector from the eventual terminus of the extended Suncoast Parkway to U.S. 301 or I-75. The state killed the idea after significant public opposition.

The state has put a halt to any further work on the controversial Coastal Connector proposed routes that would have connected Suncoast Parkway 2 from its terminus in Citrus County to either Interstate 75 or U.S. 301 in Ocala.

Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) Secretary Mike Dew, in a letter to Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn late Friday, said his department “will postpone the recommendations from the Coastal Connector planning study.”

The FDOT instead will pick up where it left off two years ago with the I-75 Relief Task Force and try and fix capacity issues on the interstate.

(FDOT will) “increase our resolve to implement the I-75 task force recommendations aimed to provide relief to existing traffic on I-75 and to enhance the inter-regional connectivity between west central and northeast Florida,” Dew wrote.

The proposed Coastal Connector routes proved unpopular with residents and government officials almost from the time FDOT unveiled them a couple months ago. Citrus and Marion county commissioners opposed the routes.

Marion County said the routes would have gone through some of the horse ranches in the area. Dew said the state is sensitive to the equine industry in Marion County and the “economic engine” it provides.

Citrus County commissioners said the routes would have gone through highly populated and sensitive environmental areas. The board earlier this month voted unanimously to tell the state to stop the Suncoast Parkway extension at State Road 44 until it comes up with a locally supported plan to move it northward. 

Prior to that, commissioners had supported extending the parkway to County Road 486. Their vote backed a resolution opposing the Coastal Connector routes.

Two years ago, the I-75 Relief Task Force held a series of regional meetings only to determine no new roads should be built to ease congestion on the interstate between Gainesville and Tampa. Instead, the task force's consensus was for for FDOT to fix I-75 first and make upgrades to feeder roads running parallel to it.

Dew, in his letter, called I-75 “a critical freight and evacuation corridor” and FDOT is researching options that address capacity issues on the interstate.

Dew said the department is programming Project Development and Environmental (PD&E) studies that will incorporate additional capacity on two segments of I-75 from the Turnpike to County Road 234 in Micanopy.

The first study will begin in fiscal year 2019-20 and should cost $6.3 million, Dew said. The subsequent segment is planned to begin in fiscal year 2020-21 at an estimated $6.6 million.

Construction on these critical capacity projects is anticipated to begin 2025,” Dew said,

Contact Chronicle reporter Michael D. Bates at 352-563-5660, mbates@chronicleonline.com.