TALLAHASSEE - The state Department of Transportation has paused plans to extend Florida’s Turnpike northwest from Wildwood after four potential routes drew local opposition, the agency said Thursday.
The Department of Transportation said in a news release that feedback turned up concerns with "portions" of all four proposed routes.
"The goal of every project is to ensure all needs are met, environmental concerns are addressed, and community characteristics are protected," Department of Transportation Secretary Jared Perdue said in a statement. "The region and local community should be assured that as we continue to refine and develop viable corridor concepts for this area, it will include extensive engagement with community leaders and the community as a whole."
The news release also said the department is dedicating resources to improvements along the Interstate 75 corridor. Transportation officials didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on Thursday.
The pause drew quick support from several groups that have worked to block the turnpike extension, which originated in a 2019 law that called for three road projects known as "multi-use corridors of regional economic significance," or "M-CORES." Major parts of the law were later scrapped, but the turnpike extension remained.
In an email to supporters, Vivian Young, communications director of the growth-management group 1000 Friends of Florida, credited local residents and elected officials "who clearly understand the many negative impacts of the proposed turnpike extension — and associated sprawling development — on their rural economies, water quality, environment and quality of life."
Resolutions supporting a "no-build" option have been backed by the Citrus County Commission, the Levy County Commission, the Dunnellon City Council, the Inglis Town Commission, the Yankeetown Council, and the Inverness City Council.
A steering committee of the No Roads to Ruin Coalition called the pause "the best news the No Roads to Ruin community has received since M-CORES reared its ugly head in 2019."
"This ‘pause,’ whatever it may mean, is directly related to the mobilization of the Citrus, Levy, Marion, and Sumter county voters who dared to refuse to take ‘toll’ for an answer," the No Roads committee said in a news release.
The M-CORE plans in 2019 also included building a toll road from Collier County to Polk County and extending the Suncoast Parkway from Citrus County to Jefferson County.
The plans were scaled back in 2021. The Collier to Polk toll road was dropped. The proposed route running north from Citrus County was revamped to more weave along U.S. 19, connecting at Interstate 10 in Madison County.
The department had been working toward producing an end-of-the-year "status report" on the turnpike extension, with public meetings expected to be held during the first half of 2023.
Transportation officials have also followed a corridor-evaluation process that includes a project development and environment study. In addition to the four routes, the process has included looking at a no-build option.
The study had a second-quarter 2024 completion timeline.
The department news release didn’t spell out what the pause means for the timeline, only that "additional details will be available as we move further along."
The No Roads to Ruin Coalition release interpreted the "additional details" line as a signal the project isn’t "dead."
"Until FDOT makes its position crystal clear, we will remain vigilant and involved," the coalition said.