BROOKSVILLE — The stalled economy has idled the Suncoast Parkway extension, a major road construction project intended to link the Veterans Expressway in Tampa with U.S. 19 in northern Citrus County.
Florida Turnpike Enterprise this week notified Citrus and Hernando counties that work on the remaining 27-mile stretch of the toll road has been suspended.
The $140 million expected to be spent for final design work and land acquisition instead will be diverted to other projects and expenses, Raymond Ashe, director of government affairs for Turnpike Enterprise, said Friday.
With ridership on the turnpike system down and revenue shrinking "we're having to do some adjustments in our work program," Ashe said.
"We're switching to our priority projects, and our priorities are safety, preservation of the existing system, widening and improvements and then expansion," he said. "Suncoast Parkway 2 is an expansion project and one of the first things we had to make some hard decisions on."
The state has completed 60 percent of the design work on the project, which is estimated to cost $900 million to build. "We're at a logical stopping point," by suspending the project now, Ashe said.
In an e-mail to Citrus and Hernando officials, Ashe wrote that the suspension will continue until the economy improves.
Suncoast Parkway I now ends at U.S. 98 just south of the Citrus-Hernando line. The planned extension would continue north through central Citrus before curving west and ending at U.S. 19 above Crystal River.
"While I'm disappointed, I can well understand their financial position," said Citrus Commissioner Gary Bartell. "I think all forms of government are in a very distressing financial situation right now."
"We've never take for granted the fact that Suncoast Parkway 2 might not be constructed," said Gary Maidhof, Citrus County's development services director. The county just directed a consultant to design its 2035 transportation plan both with and without the parkway.
"I'm extremely disappointed," said Hernando County Commission Chairman Dave Russell. "That's been in the plans for a number of years. It's really unfortunate that it has ground to a halt."
In the long run, Russell said, "it certainly would have brought more business growth up this way by opening up this corridor."
Not everyone is disappointed.
"I hope it will never come back," said Citrus resident Janet Masaoy, who has been fighting the extension for 14 years. "Now our water supply, our wildlife, our whole way of life won't be affected."
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.