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Plans to widen two roads would move 40 residences

It may be five years before the construction equipment rolls, but several homes and businesses would have to move to make way for a proposed widening of State Road 200 and U.S. 41.

Some 40 residences and 13 businesses, including the Hernando Volunteer Fire Department, would have to be moved or demolished so both roads could be widened from two lanes to four, the state Department of Transportation announced this week. The agency unveiled its preliminary plans for both roads during hearings Tuesday and Wednesday at the county courthouse.

There is no money in the DOT's five-year project list for any further work on either road; the list is dominated for now by the project to widen SR 44 from Crystal River to Inverness.

However, Grant Renne, the DOT's project manager for both designs, said the DOT wanted to give the public an idea of what is coming.

The projects would widen SR 200 from U.S. 41 to the Marion County line, a distance of about 6 miles.

U.S. 41 would be widened for its 17-mile stretch from SR 44 in Inverness to the Marion County border at Dunnellon.

There's no preliminary design yet for another congested stretch of U.S. 41, the 6-mile segment from Inverness south to Floral City. That design project is scheduled to get under way sometime before July.

Meanwhile, as Citrus County grows, traffic flow on U.S. 41 north of Inverness and on SR 200 is expected to deteriorate to unacceptably congested levels, probably within the next 10 years, Renne said.

By the year 2017, traffic on both roads is expected to triple in volume. It is currently 15,500 cars a day in both directions on U.S. 41 and 8,800 cars a day on SR 400.

That may account for the lack of opposition voiced by property owners who attended Tuesday's hearing, which focused on the SR 200 proposal. There was only one speaker, a business owner who complained the road would cut off access to his property.

"I think most people are happy to see it coming," said Gloria Strapple, whose husband owns Genie Wall Units, a custom frame and cabinet shop on SR 200. That store is not among the 10 businesses slated to be moved.

"It's already horrendous," Mrs. Strapple said of the road. "There's a lot of head-on collisions."

Renne didn't dispute that, but said the number of accidents on both roads was below the state average for comparable roads.

Renne couldn't immediately provide a detailed list of the 10 businesses on SR 200 and three business on U.S. 41 that would have to be relocated. Several are defunct and have vacated the property, he said.

Thomas McLean, chief of the Hernando Volunteer Fire Department, said Wednesday that he hadn't heard the news about the relocation, but said: "We had some (improvement) projects scheduled for the building this year, but obviously they'll be put on hold. I can't see sinking money into it if it's going to be destroyed."

Meanwhile, of the 33 residences affected along SR 200, most are mobile homes that are rented. The five-year delay in the project will give the residents time to find other accommodations.

That number of relocations is unusually high because, for unknown reasons, numerous small lots were laid out close to the road when it was built in the early 1930s, Renne said.

Three residences would be moved on U.S. 41.

The DOT's compensation for the property takings will include moving expenses, Renne said.

He also said the DOT may offer to buy the full parcel affected by the state's taking, not just the land falling within the new right of way. The condition will be that the taking must prevent the owner from using the remaining land left on the parcel for any legal use.

When the projects are finally built, the U.S. 41 widening is estimated to cost $50.1-million, with the SR 200 widening estimated at $34-million. The money comes from a combination of state and federal sources.

The state will need up to 100 feet of new right of way for certain sections of the road widenings. But by building a narrower median on other segments, the state will be able to stay mostly within the existing rights of way.

The wider median, measuring 46 feet wide, is called a rural road design; the narrow median, measuring 16 to 22 feet, is called an urban design.

The design calls for U.S. 41 to have an urban design from Inverness north to SR 200, and on SR 200 for a mile-long strip north of U.S. 41.

North of that urban strip on U.S. 41, the right of way taking will be almost exclusively on the west side of the road, to avoid interfering with Lake Tsala Apopka.

On U.S. 41 the takings will be on both sides of the road for most segments.

The DOT eventually plans to widen SR 200 to four lanes all the way to Ocala, and several of those segments are further along than the Citrus segment.

Lee Royal, a DOT spokeswoman, said the state will consult with Citrus planning officials to determine which road will go to the next phase, a more detailed design phase. That phase can take two years, and the process of acquiring rights of way can take another two years, she said.

The next design phase may begin sooner than five years from now if Citrus officials express a strong interest, she said. However, because there is a limited pool of money available for road projects, those roads would have to displace other projects other than the SR 44 widening that currently have higher priority.

The future phases will be carried out by DOT's District 7, based in Tampa. Citrus County used to be in District 5, based in DeLand, but Citrus officials complained several years ago that the county was not getting its fair share of money, because it was competing with the Orlando area.

Steve Homan, a spokesman for District 5, said he doubted the switch, which took effect in July, will pump money for road projects into Citrus County any quicker. "Now you're competing with Tampa," he said.

The public can make comments on District 7's regional work plan at its annual public hearing, scheduled for Nov. 30 in Brooksville. A time and location have yet to be announced.