I-75 Task Force eager for details

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By Mike Wright
Citrus County Chronicle
The task force charged with finding a relief plan for Interstate 75 heard plenty of information Monday, but several members are antsy for details.
The I-75 Relief Task Force met at the National Guard Armory in Crystal River, its second meeting since being formed by the Department of Transportation. It has meetings planned in each of the six counties in the study area, and plans to have a recommendation by August.
The goal is to devise ways to alleviate traffic on I-75 between Gainesville and Hernando County. Eventually, the state wants to develop a high-speed corridor between Jacksonville and Tampa Bay.
At Monday’s meeting, DOT staff and consultants explained a plan should involve what they call the “four C’s:” conservation, centers/communities, countryside and corridors. They then explained potential detriments and benefits to each category in the six counties — Citrus, Alachua, Hernando, Levy, Marion and Sumter.
Task force members, while appreciative of the information, said they wanted to see details on whether the DOT was planning to widen I-75, extend the Suncoast Parkway or offer other alternatives involving U.S. highways 301, 441 or 19.
Sumter County Commissioner Gary Breeden, in particular, said the task force needs to know traffic counts on I-75 and related roadways so it can begin to devise a solution.
Citrus County Commissioner Scott Adams agreed.
“I would hope we’ll get some more detailed information,” Adams said.
Project manager Huiwei Shen promised that information at the February meeting, along with a state analysis of what the road system will look like by 2040 should no action be taken.
Task force member Rebecca Bays, executive director of the Citrus County Economic Development Authority, urged fellow task force members to think of the big picture.
“We’re not thinking about today, we’re thinking about 50 years from now,” Bays said.
While members’ charge is to find relief from I-75, they’re also tasked with developing a corridor plan that benefits communities along or near the route.
Levy County Commission Chairman John Meeks said his county could benefit economically from access to a high-speed network.
“We need to get more people in so they can enjoy what Levy has to offer,” Meeks said.
Task force member Charles Lee, director of advocacy for Aububon of Florida, said he hopes the state finds an alternative besides building another roadway. He noted that the Rainbow River in Dunnellon would appear to be in the direct path of a Suncoast Parkway extension to I-75.
“It’s going to have to pass through that area,” he said.
Some audience members believe the state has had plans all along to extend the Suncoast Parkway from State Road 44 — its northernmost terminus following the completion of the Suncoast 2 extension — to Gainesville. The state is expected to begin construction on Suncoast 2 this year.
“It’s a ridiculous process,” said Kathy Fay Chetoka, a Homosassa resident whose property is in the parkway’s path. “You need to get specific and you need to get specific quick.”
Task force members agreed that they want to see proposed corridors as soon as possible.
“They sooner we get lines on maps,” Lee said, “the sooner this becomes real.”