Note: This is a follow up to our general piece on expressways in Florida as Senate President Galvano makes the biggest highway building spree in this state since the 1960’s, his priority.
It can be strongly argued the most congested and dangerous stretch of interstate highway in Florida is I-75 between Lake City and Wildwood. Expanded to six lanes during the course of the early 1990’s the road hasn’t been upgraded since.
In the meantime, the Ocala area has experienced explosive growth while The Villages have gone from a small retirement community to a massive locale. Sumter County’s population has tripled since the I-75 expansion was begun in 1992.
This state’s local authorities willingness to constantly approve new developments without proper highway infrastructure or evacuation routes has become badly exposed in recent years. Environmental concerns should trump any new building, but they have not leaving a traffic nightmare for those traveling from point A to point B in Florida as well as those transporting goods that keep our economy going.
The current junction of the Turnpike, I-75 and SR 44 near Wildwood(pictured above) has become an extreme bottleneck. Current construction will solve only some of the problem created by explosive population growth and the lack of alternate routes.
My general concerns about environmental impacts have caused me in the past to oppose the building of new roads in rural and exurban areas. They’ve also prompted me to oppose new urban expressways, with the added concern that they destroy established neighborhoods. But unfortunately the state probably has no choice but to embark on some major road building projects unless the feds are going to be willing to place a new interstate highway here in Florida, something they have not done despite our population growth in decades. Meanwhile new interstates pop up in places with similar growth like Nevada, Texas and North Carolina.
So it will be left to the state to take this on. But concerns remain.
When the Suncoast Parkway was planned in the 1990’s and opened in 2001 it was envisioned as an alternate to US 19 through Pasco and Hernando Counties. It’s served that purpose. Now it can serve another one which is being an alternate to I-75 between Wildwood and Lake City.
However, other options do exist. I’ve long advocated the extension of the Turnpike to US 19/98 in Citrus or Levy Counties. This would allow quicker access to Tallahassee, the state capital by using an under-utilized divided highway, US 19/98 which links up with US 27 also a divided highway in Perry. The Galvano/Lee proposals take this logic also but instead link the Turnpike up with a newly extended Suncoast Parkway.
Environmental concerns will still need to be considered. But on the balance of considerations this idea seems like its time has come for better or worse.
However, the other portion of the road proposal, the idea of a revived Heartland Parkway that would burrow through rural areas and wetlands in southwest Florida continues to be something that makes little long-term sense. While the road would serve as an alternate evacuation route which is useful in the event of another Irma-like event, it also would do irreparable harm to the environment and rural communities in its area. Perhaps an upgraded US 17 or SR 29 with limited-access four lane bypass routes around towns like what FDOT is currently building on US 301 near Starke makes more sense?
SR 29 already provides access to I-75 heading toward Fort Lauderdale and Miami (note the above pictured sign should read “south” even though I-75 does go east at that point, as I-75 is a north/south road) and could be upgraded though it’s worth noting the highway goes through the Florida Panther habitat. If a new super highway were to be built in the area it would need to elevated for much of its journey given the wildlife considerations.
Again, while I have come around to the view that a Suncoast Parkway extension makes sense due to past mistakes that are now irretrievable, the Heartland Parkway again seems a but of waste.