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Where should the I-75 connector go?

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Citrus officials disagree

By Mike Wright
The Suncoast Parkway’s biggest cheerleader wants Citrus County’s political leaders on board for a proposed parkway extension to Interstate 75.
Work on extending the Suncoast Parkway from U.S. Highway 98 to State Road 44 is expected to begin in the summer. Citrus County officials are being asked to support extending the road further to I-75.
Jim Kimbrough, vice president of SunTrust Bank of the Nature Coast and a Gov. Rick Scott appointee to the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority, is asking for resolutions in support for the parkway extension from the county commission and cities of Crystal River and Inverness.
Kimbrough, who lives in Crystal River, sought the support after Citrus County’s representative on the I-75 Relief Task Force, Commissioner Scott Adams, said he doesn’t think the parkway should be extended north of State Road 44 and that a freeway reliever is available through the available road network.
“Suncoast 2 needs to head north in the big global picture of the Florida transportation system as the next step in connecting Tampa Bay with northeast Florida,” said Kimbrough, a former member of the Florida Transportation Commission. “When that happens, it will serve as a reliever to I-75, basically in the area of Gainesville to Wildwood. It’s needed today.”
The state is expected to begin this summer building what is known as Suncoast Parkway 2 from U.S. 98 in northern Hernando County to S.R. 44 in Lecanto. Construction should take four years, officials say.
While original plans called for the parkway to extend west to U.S. 19 north of Crystal River, the state instead is looking at sending the parkway north to I-75 to relieve traffic off the freeway near Gainesville or Ocala.
A task force comprised of representatives from six counties — Citrus, Alachua, Hernando, Levy, Marion and Sumter — is meeting monthly to develop a recommendation by Oct. 1 to Transportation Secretary Jim Boxold.
At the group’s recent meeting in The Villages, Adams pushed for upgrading existing roads, such as State Road 24, which connects Gainesville to U.S. 19 in Levy County, instead of extending the parkway.
Citrus County Commissioner Joe Meek said he intends to bring a resolution to the board’s April 26 meeting to support the parkway extension.
Meek noted that the county has not taken a position for or against sending the parkway north of S.R. 44.
“We support the Florida Department of Transportation continuing to explore options of extending the parkway from 44 northward to some point as an I-75 reliever and provide connectivity to Jacksonville,” he said. “It’s important the DOT hears from the county that we support them having that discussion.”
Meek said he is not proposing support for any specific route.
“It’s important we go on the record right now,” he said. “It’s so early in the process. It’s important they continue that process.”
Adams did not return calls for comment.
Inverness City Manager Frank DiGiovanni said he will bring the resolution to the city council either next week or in early May.
DiGiovanni said he wasn’t sure if the city is prepared to offer an opinion for or against the extension without further information.
“We should allow the professionals and studies to play out,” he said. “Once roads go in, it’s forever.”
Not everyone is on board for the reliever. Alachua County commissioners sent a letter to the state in February urging upgrades to I-75 rather than a new corridor that would dissect its ecosystem.
Kimbrough said he understands Alachua’s concerns, but questions their significance.
“If environmental concerns were highest priority on the table, Florida would still be sitting here with 2 million people like it was 60 years ago,” he said. “There’s a balance to be reached.”
Kimbrough said he has no doubt that growth will continue in Florida and the parkway plays a significant role in transportation.
“Suncoast 2 that’s planned to end at 44 is the natural transportation artery to extend into the northeast Florida area,” he said. “I personally believe that’s how the majority of Citrus Countians feel.”