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Road extension plan may face dead end

Faced with intense public opposition, a county consultant has decided to let someone else worry about a controversial plan to widen County Road 48 to four lanes sometime in the next century. "We will allow those people who are living there at the time to come up with a solution," Joseph Kubicki, director of transportation services for King Engineering Associates Inc., said last week.

Residents aren't ready to allow the consultant and the County Commission, which is scheduled to consider the project on Tuesday, off the hook.

The issue of the road widening heated up last month with opponents objecting to the project because it would endanger trees planted in the 1800s.

The road widening was to be the second phase of the road extension project that would create a bypass around downtown Inverness, which is to be the first phase of the project.

Now, opponents aren't happy about either phase.

The $3.9-million first phase would extend CR 48 about four miles from U.S. 41, where it now ends, to County Road 581. The intended purpose is to relieve congestion along U.S. 41.

Opponents initially feared the plan to widen the road to four lanes would require cutting down some of the canopied oak trees along Orange Avenue, the name for CR 48 as it runs through Floral City.

King Engineering came up with a proposal to create four lanes without widening the street.

Under that plan, traffic would have been routed one way down the two lanes of Orange Avenue and the other way down the two lanes of a parallel street.

Floral City residents still objected, and King Engineering dropped all references to four lanes in the proposal going before the commissioners on Tuesday.

Now, residents say the CR 48 extension will harm the oak trees whether or not the street is widened.

"It will destroy Floral City as a unique historic place because it will destroy the trees," said Marcia Beasley, who lives on Duval Island in Floral City.

"The trees will not stand up to the kind of traffic (forecast for the road). Already the trees are being destroyed by (fumes from) heavy trucks."

Beasley, a member of the Citrus County Historical Society, is helping organize an effort to designate downtown Floral City as a historic site on the National Register.

King Engineering also looked at two, less direct alternatives for the extension. One would use Daniels Road, which is about half a mile south of Orange Avenue. The other would use Floral Park Drive, more than 1.5 miles south.

The Daniels Road alternative would cost $5.2-million and the Floral Park Drive alternative, $8.3-million.

Both would destroy wetlands. Beasley opposes these options, too, and thinks the project should be wiped off the drawing board.

King Engineering is recommending the $3.9-million direct extension, which would not destroy wetlands.

It would run through the Rooks Ranch, a commercial ranch, near CR 581. The consultant says the road can be routed around the ranch for $900,000 more.

County Commissioner Chet White, who represents the Floral City district, is proposing that the commission delay a decision on the project for six months to consider the concerns of residents.

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