THE ISSUE: Senate, county leaders say COVID-19 pandemic could delay Suncoast Parkway construction.

OUR OPINION: Finances may slow progress, but the extension must continue.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has spurred tremendous financial losses across the nation, with billions of dollars soon-to-be coming up short at the state level.

Projects will be vetoed, delayed and reworked. Dreams will be put on hold to support the basic needs of Florida citizens.

Decades in the making, the Suncoast Parkway has finally arrived in Citrus County. In recent years, local and state leaders have been set on moving the road along, county by county. And that enthusiasm must continue; despite the likely slowdown due to the pandemic, the work must advance.

While the current pace and planned progress will most likely decelerate, it is imperative that momentum continue for the road to travel north, passing state lines into Georgia.

According to incoming Senate President Wilton Simpson, the COVID-19 pandemic will cost a $5 to $6 billion shortfall to the state reserves. Without a doubt, Florida leadership will have to look at that loss and prioritize. In times of economic uncertainty, large-scale projects like the Suncoast 2 inevitably face setbacks. In 2009, amid the economic crisis, work on the Suncoast 2 came to a halt, but as time passed the work was revived and continued on in 2013. Hopefully, the project will not have to encounter another setback of that magnitude.

The toll road is scheduled for completion in two years, and with the county commission’s backing, the road is scheduled to continue another three miles to County Road 486. A regional task force will make recommendations to the governor and Legislature in November about how to best extend the parkway even further north to Interstate 10 in Jefferson County.

The timeline of the extension may have to be spread out as the economy recovers from the impacts of COVID-19. With economic uncertainty, that is expected, but history has shown that the economy will rebound.

It will take time. The end of the road may remain in Citrus for a decade or more, and county leaders must plan now for the effects of the increase in traffic to the area. Proper planning must be done so Citrus can turn the impending economic impacts of the highway into an advantage.

The Suncoast 2 cannot become a road to nowhere; it should be a limited-access highway that moves traffic south to north, especially in the case of a hurricane evacuation. It’s is smart to continue work at a scaled down pace, as it’s understandable that the residents of Florida have far more pressing needs now.

Despite the setback, we must go forward, and continue to work for the betterment of the Citrus community and state, and that means improving road systems along the way.