05/17/2018 Our Voice

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‘Proposed’ corridors undesired

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise are currently studying possibilities for a new high-speed roadway, as some 8,000 property owners in Citrus and Marion counties recently learned when they received letters from the FDOT advising that their properties might be affected.

FDOT is evaluating alternatives for connecting the Suncoast Parkway 2 in Citrus County (when built) with either I-75 or U.S. 301 north of Ocala in Marion County. The agency says it’s to keep the region moving forward by establishing a long-term vision and by “incorporating emerging transportation technologies to improve freight movement, address seasonal congestion, accommodate projected growth, and plan for emergency evacuation to create Florida’s Next Generation Corridor.”

Those “proposed” routes have, and by no surprise, met with blowback in Marion County. Most, if not all, of them would come through environmentally sensitive land, or in at last two instances, plow right through several high dollar horse farms in the county.

Taking the “proposed” corridors through environmental lands, or pristine horse farms doesn’t make much sense. In case you forgot, Marion County touts itself as the “Horse Capital of the World.” It boasts about its abundance of ecotourism opportunities, especially in Southwest Marion County.

There’s no question that we need to plan for a new transportation alternative. The almost daily traffic congestion between here and points north is made worse by the annual snowbird arrival. In extraordinary situations, it becomes untenable — for example, last September when it seemed most of South Florida was stuck on our roadways trying to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Irma.

But which is the most pressing need: a new transportation alternative or an evacuation route?

We agree with Mayor Walter Green and others who questioned the need to evacuate citizens to the east coast, as opposed to directing them northward and out of harm’s way.

Although FDOT advises that “transportation improvements can take decades to realize,” the studies, thinking and planning are happening right now, as they should. That’s why we question why taking the parkway, or coastal connector, along U.S. 19 isn’t an option as it should be.

We understand a new transportation corridor will benefit many. There is no perfect route for a new roadway. No matter which potential alignment is chosen, it will be disruptive, affecting people, homes, vacant properties and wild lands. FDOT pledges to provide clear and frequent communication, and encourages public input throughout the study period. We need to hold them to it. Citizens have an obligation, as well, to stay updated and to submit their comments.

State transportation planners hosted public meetings recently in both Citrus and Marion counties at which route maps and evaluation criteria were presented. You can review the materials online, and if you have property interests, you should do so.

FDOT has set up a dedicated website with links to data for each alternative — including the overall route plus segment-by-segment detail down to the street level. Look also at the Preliminary Corridor Alternatives Evaluation Matrix, which quantifies the social, cultural, natural and physical environmental impacts for each alternative, plus estimated construction costs.

FDOT’s next steps are to refine corridor alternatives, evaluate them, then determine which, if any, should advance to the project development and environmental study phase. There will be public meetings this fall to present study findings and recommendations, and the corridor report will be prepared for winter 2018 release.

Stay informed. All residents should participate in the process.