GROWING PAINS

The issue: Inverness City Council voices opposition to turnpike extension through the city.

Our opinion: A foot down is a step ahead.

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For decades, leadership in the city of Inverness has envisioned a “small town done right,” working diligently to maintain balance between a vibrant and emerging small city, while retaining hometown intimacy among its citizenry.

So it comes as no big surprise last month when Inverness City Council scoffed at an idea brought up by Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) officials to potentially use State Road 44 as a corridor for a connector between the Northern Turnpike and the Suncoast Parkway.

The notion of a large-scale highway dissecting the city would negate those many decades worth of work to keep the city simple and modest, while also destroying sensitive wetland and marshland ecosystems surrounding S.R. 44 on either side of the lakes region.

City Manager Eric Williams told the Chronicle and council that FDOT task forces were eying S.R. 44 between Crystal River and Wildwood for the connector, and that plans to move the road in that direction would undermine the investment and efforts to keep downtown Inverness a “small town done right” for the past 30 years.

It would be a disastrous development for Inverness and undo much of the revitalization the city has done to keep the “small town” atmosphere thriving. It would increase traffic congestion not only for Inverness, but also for Citrus County.

Inverness already has a great deal of traffic moving along through the downtown, especially at rush hour, and to add turnpike traffic to that would make Inverness a bustling metropolitan area unbefitting of the city’s long-term vision.

At the meeting, which Williams invited FDOT to, Inverness officials made it clear they want no part of any potential plans to be part of the turnpike and parkway connector. Williams said it was important that council let its opinion be known and to “speak up early and often.”

Numerous council members voiced great concern and disapproval for the potential route. Councilman David Ryan said that even though the FDOT “was just coming up with ideas,” city officials wanted to state a clear and strong message that the council wants no part of utilizing S.R. 44 as an extension route, as it would disrupt all of the good work the city has done.

That foot down is a step ahead for the city’s vision and legacy. A turnpike connector through Inverness just doesn’t make sense.

FDOT officials told council that the corridor reviews were in the early stages; task forces try to utilize existing corridors rather than create new ones. The task force charged with providing recommendations and evaluations to FDOT, the Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (M-CORES) program, will provide a final report by Nov. 15, 2020, which will guide FDOT in its subsequent study phases.

Leaders in Inverness know the needs of the city and its residents. A turnpike-to-parkway connector utilizing S.R. 44 isn’t the solution to keep Inverness a “small town done right.” Kudos to Williams and council for rallying opposition early in the planning process and speaking up against running hefty state traffic through Inverness.