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Florida roads go by many names — too many, some say

U.S. 19 has been dedicated to a variety of fallen military members, slain law enforcers and political and civic leaders. Since 1998, the state Department of Transportation has erected 738 new signs at a cost of $274,000. Some state lawmakers want to curtail the practice to save money.

Photos by STEVE BOUSQUET | Times/Herald

U.S. 19 has been dedicated to a variety of fallen military members, slain law enforcers and political and civic leaders. Since 1998, the state Department of Transportation has erected 738 new signs at a cost of $274,000. Some state lawmakers want to curtail the practice to save money.

CROSS CITY — The country road that connects Crystal River and Tallahassee is known as U.S. 19.

It's also called the Blue Star Memorial Highway, the Nature Coast Trail and the Claude Pepper Memorial Highway, in honor of the late congressman and U.S. senator who was revered as a champion of the elderly.

At various points in Citrus, Levy, Dixie and Taylor counties, U.S. 19 is also named after fallen American soldiers, slain police officers and political and civic leaders from decades ago.

Since the 1920s, the Florida Legislature has approved more than 1,000 new names for bridges and roads, and some places are named for more than one person.

In 2010, lawmakers established a modern one-year record with 61 namings and 158 new signs at a cost of $400 each. Since 1998, the state Department of Transportation has erected 738 new signs. Cost: $274,000.

But some lawmakers now want to curtail the practice, including an end to naming roads and bridges for people who are still alive.

The Senate Transportation Committee, headed by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, will soon consider a bill limiting designations to state-controlled roads and bridges, and only on local roads if a city or county asks for it. In addition, an honoree must have made "significant" contributions to Florida.

Latvala's lack of enthusiasm for the proposal was evident.

"This project did not originate with the chairman of this committee," Latvala announced at a Senate hearing. "This would severely limit our ability as legislators to do designations for roads and bridges."

The idea came from one of the Senate's most influential members, Niceville Republican Don Gaetz, the incoming Senate president, who said he sought it as a cost-saving idea.

"Every year that I've been here, we always have a lot of requests for bridge and road namings," said Gaetz, who's entering his sixth year in a Senate that must address a $2 billion state budget shortfall. "I think it's important, at a time when budgets are tight, that we look at what the costs are. We're in a penny-stacking business right now."

Some legislators say the practice has gotten out of hand.

"We have up to four names on one sign," said Sen. Larcenia Bullard, D-Miami. "We're cluttering our highways with all these signs."

Senators considered but then abandoned a provision that would prevent a road being named for someone unless he or she had been dead for two years. Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Wellington, noted that it would block lawmakers from honoring the late Gov. Claude Kirk, who died in September.

Another example senators cited was retired Air Force Col. George "Bud" Day, 86, of Fort Walton Beach, the nation's most decorated living military hero and a Medal of Honor recipient.

"To honor a person of that caliber, it shouldn't be just a memorial," said Sen. Greg Evers, R-Crestview. "He should deserve the full dedication of the road."

Sizing up the consensus of his committee, Latvala said living people would still be honored with road or bridge designations, but he added: "Let's require the reason for a designation to be included in any designation for living people."

In the House, Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres, has filed a proposed constitutional amendment (HJR 41) requiring that someone must be dead for five years before he or she can receive such an honor, unless the Legislature waives the restriction by a four-fifths vote of both chambers.

Many prominent living Floridians have received road designations. There's Don Shula Drive in Miami, the Bob Graham Sunshine Skyway Bridge linking Pinellas and Manatee counties and E. Clay Shaw Jr. Bridge in Fort Lauderdale, named for the former member of Congress who secured federal money to build it.

More than a dozen new naming bills have been filed for 2012, and the session doesn't start for nearly two months.

Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, wants to pass a bill to name a bridge after a civic leader, Alma Lee Loy, the first woman elected to the Indian River County Commission.

Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, amended the bill to rename the Oklawaha River Bridge in Marion County after the late John Brantley Jr., who built the bridge.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

. Fast facts

A road by many other names

U.S. 19 in Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties has several other names:

• Blue Star Memorial Highway, all three counties.

• Eisenhower Boulevard, Pinellas.

• William Howard Taft Parkway, Pasco and Hernando.

• Green Key Road, Pasco, New Port Richey west to west shore of Green Key.

• Nature Coast Trail, Hernando.

• Weeki Wachee Median, Hernando, median of U.S. 19 and State Road 50.

Source: Florida Department of Transportation

Florida roads go by many names — too many, some say 11/06/11 [Last modified: Sunday, November 6, 2011 9:23pm]
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