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Developer lobbying for parkway exit

Gary Blackwell, a developer in New Port Richey, has a vision about the growth that the Suncoast Parkway will bring to northern Hernando County.

Within a decade, he said, the area between State Road 50 and U.S. 98 will see golf course communities like the ones near the path of the parkway in the in the southern half of the county. The development won't be quite as extensive, he said, but it will justify the construction of another exit at Centralia Road, about 5 miles north of SR 50.

"With the addition of the expressway (development) has to go that way," said Blackwell, of Gary Blackwell Investments Inc. He said his company owns about 450 acres east of U.S. 19 and adjacent to the old Royal Highlands subdivision. Building an exit there now would be far cheaper than adding it after the parkway is completed, he said.

He has argued for the exit in letters to both departing County Administrator Chuck Hetrick and the state's Turnpike District.

"There is a tremendous need for an exit at this location. There are thousands of vacant lots and subdivided tracts in this area that would certainly develop with this exit," he wrote in an Oct. 14 letter to Joanne Hurley, public information officer for the Suncoast Parkway project.

His prediction may be true, Hurley said, but it won't happen for quite some time.

Also, she said, it's a little late in the game to think about building an interchange. Construction of the parkway in Hernando County could begin as early as next summer. During the design phase, the district looked at the need for an exit at Centralia.

"An interchange was considered and is not needed at Centralia Road since our traffic projections through 2019 do not show significant traffic for an interchange at this location," John Pollard, project manager for the parkway responded in a letter to Blackwell.

The district does not doubt the parkway eventually will bring development to that area, Pollard wrote, it just won't happen soon.

"An interchange may be needed when development occurs in this area," he wrote.

County Commissioner Paul Sullivan likewise said he thought an interchange eventually may be needed, but not yet. None of the commissioners, he said, actively support Blackwell's suggestion.

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