The 1961 Elvis Presley movie “Follow that Dream” inspired the roadway named the Follow that Dream Parkway from Inglis to Yankeetown and onward to the Gulf.
Currently, there is another roadway that some people don’t think is a dream – they look upon it as a nightmare. That’s the Northern Turnpike Extension, a project currently in the planning phase. Essentially, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is conducting an Alternative Corridor Evaluation (ACE) to assess the extension of Florida’s Turnpike from its northern end in Wildwood.
There are few current issues that have provoked more negative responses of local citizens, including some local governments. That’s because two of the four projected corridors have the potential to affect Citrus County. The fact that the south alternative corridor comes close to Inverness has alarmed the city council so much that it has approved a resolution condemning all four potential corridors. Their rationale is the negative impact on the environment, the economic cost, the negative influence on quality of life, and – as one council member wondered – is it an excuse to provide a corridor for further development? The city council suggests the FDOT look at “enhancing the state’s existing roadways,” essentially forgetting about an alternative route northward from Wildwood and, instead, widening Interstate 75. More about that in a minute.
The Florida Turnpike Extension (FTE) is managing the ACE, which will help FDOT submit a report to the governor, state senate president and Speaker of the House by Dec. 31, 2022.
Citizens can provide input through a comment section on the Florida Turnpike website (www.floridasturnpike.com/turnpike-projects/featured-projects/northern-turnpike-extension/). We encourage all residents to take advantage of this opportunity to comment, though we urge folks to be realistic. With more than 1,000 people flooding into Florida daily, a proactive, positive approach is the best method to plan for continuing transportation growth. Do not be fooled. The turnpike extension is coming, in our opinion. If someone is in opposition, have a good alternative. Banging one’s shoe on the desk like Khrushchev did at the U.N. in the 1960s is not productive and is not helpful in focusing the FDOT on the most effective methods and next steps in ensuring our environment and other important factors are best addressed.
We do not think that adding more lanes to an already saturated I-75 from Wildwood northward is anything more than a Band-Aid to a heavy flow of traffic that will continue to get worse. Anyone who has followed their GPS during a hurricane evacuation should know what’s going to happen when they hit I-75. And those who have lived here long enough know to pack a sack lunch if they are going to Gainesville and beyond using the interstate as their primary route. It is not only possible, but also probable that the 30-something miles from the Ocala area northward to Gainesville will be a slow-moving roadway – sometimes a parking lot – especially if there’s an accident. Forget about University of Florida sports activities; it’s a given that it’s a slow boat to China on Saturdays in the fall.
We applaud the trio of Chambers of Commerce, the Citrus County, Ocala, and Dunnellon chapters, who have signed a joint letter to the state seeking “to be your partners in assuring that if a turnpike extension is ultimately built, that it is the most beneficial” one to the area. This effort, in our opinion, is not a head in the sand action, but a positive movement to ensure we follow best practices and look to our future growth in a positive, proactive manner.