Having attended the Feb. 6 public hearing and the Florida Transportation Commission meeting on March 5 in Tallahassee, at which Citrus County residents expressed their concerns regarding the Suncoast Parkway, some observations are in order.
First, I find it particularly interesting that the very people who invaded "my Florida" are now in high protest over others invading their back yard. Second, the protesters simply do not understand transportation and land planning.
This is for dead certain: Whether the Suncoast Parkway is built in Citrus County or not, the county will continue to grow. Growth is controlled by zoning and density limits, not roads. As long as a landowner is free to build on his or her land with existing county zoning and density permits, growth will occur if there is a willing buyer and a willing seller. Did two-lane State Road 200 stop the growth of Beverly Hills?
The protesters should know that the parkway concept started in late 1983. The first study was in 1986 and had three goals: 1. determine if there would be support for the project; 2. evaluate the environmental constraints and; 3. model the future traffic demands. The contract was a joint study among the Florida Department of Transportation and Citrus, Hernando, Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. During that review, the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the state Department of Natural Resources were told about the project and entered into the review process.
The Environmental Impact Statement was extensive and took about four years to complete. Citrus County was a part of the original study but was deleted when the DOT had a serious shortfall of cash in 1988.
For those who have no interest in Florida and don't care about its future, you should at least understand this about the parkway:
1. Transportation is the backbone of Florida.
2. The parkway will be a very important regional and state highway.
3. Florida ranks near the bottom of the 50 states in earned income. In order for Floridians to improve their lot, Florida must attract and retain new businesses, as well as help existing businesses become successful so they can pay higher salaries.
4. The ad valorem tax can be lowered if there are more higher-income families with higher-valued homes.
5. When the first two phases of the parkway dead-end at U.S. 98, motorists will travel north on U.S. 19 and County Road 491, with the additional traffic causing an outcry from the residents of Citrus County.
6. The parkway will be an important evacuation route for the Tampa Bay area, including Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties, if a hurricane should hit the area.
There are numerous examples of Florida counties that killed transportation projects only to find that they are needed to accommodate traffic demands. All too often, the consequences of the "no-build" solution results in ever-increasing traffic congestion, as is experienced in northern Pinellas County. The solutions are expensive to implement, so congestion just gets worse and the quality of life deteriorates.
_ Donald R. Crane Jr. is president of Floridians for Better Transportation, which is based in St. Petersburg. Guest columnists write their own views on subjects they choose, which do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.