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Parkway fight hits final stretch // THE SURVEY SAYS

Half of Citrus County residents questioned in a Citrus Times-commissioned survey last week said they favor having the Suncoast Parkway extended through Citrus County.

One-fourth of the 312 people who responded to the telephone poll said they oppose the road. Another 25 percent said they were unsure how they felt about it.

People who said they paid "a lot" of attention to news about the highway, however, were more likely to favor it than those who said they knew some or nothing about the proposed road.

Respondents' support for the parkway was solid countywide. Generally, that support did not depend on age, income, sex, the number of years they have lived in the county or what part of the county they live in.

The survey, conducted by Suncoast Opinions Surveys, the research division of the Times, contains a margin of error of 5 percentage points.

In an open-ended question that asked why respondents supported or opposed the parkway plan, the responses followed the arguments used on both sides of the issue.

Sixty-nine percent of the people who favor the parkway said they want it because it will ease traffic flow. Forty-eight percent said it will speed travel to Tampa Bay, and 29 percent said the parkway will boost the local economy.

Other reasons given for extending the highway included moving along with progress and reducing traffic accidents.

Of those who oppose the road, 38 percent said it will destroy the Citrus County countryside and increase urban sprawl. Twenty-nine percent said they think the parkway will hurt the environment, and 14 percent said the parkway is not needed because U.S. 19 still meets the needs of travelers to Tampa Bay.

Other reasons given by opponents included an increase in traffic and crime, the loss of property to make way for the road, a distaste for toll roads, increased taxes, and the belief that the tollway will bypass local businesses.

Janet Masaoy, chairwoman of Citizens Opposed to the Suncoast Tollway, said she thinks a voter referendum, rather than a poll, would be more indicative of how Citrus County residents feel about the issue.

"We wanted a referendum, and we wish there had been one," she said. "I feel strongly that if there had been one, a majority would have been opposed to the parkway."

Masaoy said she had met several people in the past few days who knew little about the proposed roadway.

"The road is coming close to them, and they are very concerned about it," she said. "People just weren't aware."

Twenty percent of those polled said they had followed the parkway issue closely. Forty-nine percent said they had paid "some attention," and 31 percent paid no attention or were unsure.

Almost half the respondents have lived in Citrus County 10 years or less.

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