| Florida Department of Transportation Begins New Study of Possible Northern Turnpike Extension|
|Audubon Florida has historically opposed unnecessary and environmentally destructive routes for the Turnpike Extension since the 1970s. Earlier proposals were rejected as too damaging to environmental resources and not economically feasible in the early 1980s and again in 1999. The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has now scheduled two public meetings in early December to begin the process of a new Project Development and Environment (PD&E) study for the Northern Turnpike Extension.|
Senate Bill 100 directed FDOT to conduct a study and prepare a report “summarizing the status of” the PD&E study to be presented to the Governor and Legislature by December 31, 2022. The study will evaluate alternative routes for the extension in a northwestward direction from the current Turnpike terminus at I-75 in Wildwood, to either US-19 in Levy County, or to connect with the Suncoast Parkway future route and US-19 in Citrus County north of Crystal River. The Legislature also directed FDOT to incorporate the considerations of the former M-CORES Task Force recommendations in any planning for a future Turnpike Extension.
Four tentative corridors for the study have been placed on the map, two of which generally follow previously proposed and rejected corridors north and west through Sumter, Marion, and Levy Counties. These northern routes are subject to the same objections as previously stated by Audubon, the Marion and Levy County Commissions, as well as the City of Dunnellon Commission. The northern two routes would slice through key prime agricultural and equestrian industry areas and conservation land tracts including the Cross Florida Greenway, Halpata Tastanaki Preserve, and the eastern edge of the Goethe State Forest. The two northern routes are also contrary to recommendations of the M-CORES Task Force, which stated that the Northern Turnpike Extension should not traverse the Cross Florida Greenway into Marion County, and should not invade important conservation land tracts.
Two of the four corridors stay on the very southern edge of Marion County (south of the Cross Florida Greenway), and largely cross through Sumter and Citrus Counties. These would appear to have comparatively less environmental impact, following existing major power line right-of-ways and potentially minimizing contact with conservation lands. The need for the roads and their economic viability, however, are not yet clear.
Audubon will continue to engage with FDOT and stakeholders to ensure that the PD&E accurately represents the costs, demonstrated need (or lack thereof), and required environmental considerations for this extension. This study informs the state’s decision of whether or not to pursue a turnpike extension at a future date.
A link to the FDOT environmental evaluation process and maps can be found here.
The meetings will be held:
December 7, 2021, 5:30 – 7:30 p.m., College of Central Florida, 15390 US-19, Chiefland, FL 32626
December 9, 2021, 5:30 – 7:30 p.m., College of Central Florida, 3800 S. Lecanto Highway, Lecanto, FL 34461
Meetings can be attended either in person, virtually, or by telephone. You can register for the meetings here.