florida turnpike

In this August 2020 photo, vehicles approach a Sunpass toll both entrance on the Florida Turnpike. Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Thursday to have plans ready in two years for extending the turnpike west.

Suncoast Parkway extension? Absolutely.

Florida Turnpike extension? Um …

That’s the feeling from Citrus County business and political leaders who, while giddy that Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill Thursday that paves the way for the Suncoast to U.S. 19, they are not so sure about the Florida Turnpike extension from Wildwood to some point west.

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“The local chamber hasn’t even taken a position on that,” said Josh Wooten, president and chief executive officer of the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce. “There’s a lot of ‘what ifs’ on that project. It’s worthy of debate.”

Josh Wooten 2016 mug

Josh Wooten, president/CEO of the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce

DeSantis signed Senate Bill 100, which eliminates M-CORES, the 2019 project that set up task forces to review three projects, including both the Suncoast and turnpike extensions.

While the new bill creates a process for the Florida Department of Transportation to design a Suncoast connector along U.S. 19 to Interstate 10, it also directs FDOT to plan and design an extension of the turnpike from Wildwood to a “logical and appropriate terminus” and have the plan ready by December 2022.

Citrus, Levy, Marion and Sumter counties were part of the turnpike extension task force. It concluded that there wasn’t enough information to determine whether the extension is needed.

The state, though, has long eyed a 49-mile extension of the turnpike from I-75 in Wildwood to Lebanon Station, near the intersection of State Road 121 and U.S. 19 in Levy County. Studies and plans bantered about since the late 1980s, and there was never construction money in the budget for the road.

Prior turnpike extension plans had the roadway going through Sumter, Marion and Levy counties, but not Citrus.

Inverness Councilman Cabot McBride, a member of the Hernando-Citrus Metropolitan Planning Organization, or MPO, said he doesn’t know if support exists in Citrus County for the turnpike.

Cabot McBride mug

Cabot McBride

“The people know the extension is likely going to take place,” he said. “I’m not sure it’s well known it could conceivably enter into Citrus County.”

McBride said his experience is that FDOT officials listen to the concerns of local residents.

“They’re paying attention to what the people want,” he said. “The question is what are the people of Citrus County going to say? I’m thinking it would not be something we embrace.”

Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, said unlike the opposition that came from many sectors regarding construction of a new Suncoast Parkway further north to I-10, he doesn’t think that will happen with a potential turnpike extension route.

“It’s pretty rural across there, pretty sparse,” he said.

Commissioner Jeff Kinnard, who chairs the MPO, said it’s too soon to know what the state has in mind for the turnpike extension.

“It’s been a long-term topic to bring the turnpike to the west coast,” he said. “Whether it comes through Citrus County, or cuts through Levy County, we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Contact Chronicle reporter Mike Wright at 352-563-3228 or mwright@chronicleonline.com. To view more of his stories, go to www.tinyurl.com/y3bakm6w.

(2) comments

crizor

I had to chuckle at McBride's statement, "FDOT officials listen to the concerns of local residents." If this were the case there would be a regular traffic light at Both ends of 491, where it meets SR 200 and US 98. There is still no light at SR 200 in the foreseeable future, and they're putting a stupid Round a bout at US 98. FDOT should listen to the loca residents. But like most government offices the do what they want.

Madhatter

I do agree that the Florida Turnpike should go to Lebanon Station in Levy County, and so should the Suncoast parkway. Then turn US19 into a limited access to I-10, build by passes for Chiefland and Perry.

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