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Residents invited to help shape roads plans

Lone headlights still pierce the darkness for miles when you drive on County Road 581 at night.

But the same can't be said anymore for State Road 44 in Inverness or U.S. 41 near Floral City, where growth can be gauged by the amount of cars riding bumper-to-bumper down the highways like jostling cars hooked to a freight train.

And with last year being the county's busiest year of issuing building permits for new homes in at least 15 years, and developers clamoring for chunks of land in the Central Ridge area lured by the expected Suncoast Parkway extension, traffic will become a bigger issue.

Roy Cawley and his wife, Barbara Dee, moved to Beverly Hills just two months ago, but they already foresee the stampede.

"Being new residents and observing the fact that real estate is being sold at record rate here, obviously we're interested in what the traffic problems might be in the future," he said.

Now is the time for people to give the county input on where they predict the inevitable byproduct of growth _ traffic _ will congest roads, harry travelers and make retirees think about moving even farther north. The county and its consultants, Dyer, Riddle, Mills and Precourt Inc. of DeLand, held the second of a series of public workshops this week to discuss a 25-year-transportation plan, where some certainties of road projects were given and a wish list of others were presented.

The proposed 31 projects, many of which still have to go through cost-analysis and more detailed feasibility studies, were gleaned from public input in October _ when the first series of transportation meetings was held _ as well as from county plans and the Florida Department of Transportation.

In total, the projects could cost "hundreds of millions of dollars," said county public works director Ken Frink, who was deflated by the fact that only a handful of residents showed up for the Thursday evening session.

That may be because, right now, the county's roads do not look like those of traffic-choked counties to the south.

"Citrus County has it beautiful compared with Hillsborough and Pinellas and some of those counties," said Greg Kern, a consultant and project manager.

Of the 31 road projects consultants and the county have listed, Kern said, there are some certainties. The state proposes to improve the following:

+ U.S. 19 from U.S. 98 to County Road 488.

+ U.S. 19 from the Hernando County line to U.S. 98.

+ U.S. 41 from CR 488 to the Marion County line.

+ U.S. 41 from SR 44 to CR 486.

+ U.S. 41 from CR 486 to CR 488.

+ U.S. 41 from Hernando County line to CR 39.

+ U.S. 41 from Watson Street to SR 44.

+ SR 200 from U.S. 41 to the Marion County line.

The county, Kern said, proposes:

+ CR 491 widening, already under construction.

+ CR 486 widening, a $20-million project that was awarded to a contractor last week.

+ Emerald Oaks Drive to Anthony Avenue connection.

An east-west connection between Anthony Avenue and SR 200, Kern said, makes a lot of sense and is also a good possibility because it's located in a high-growth area. Floral City residents have been heavily lobbying for a connection between Floral Park Drive and CR 48, too, which would help congestion there, Kern said.

The remaining projects on the proposed list "are all valid at this point," Kern said. Luckily for forward-thinking residents, there is still time for them to get their requests or comments in.

Consultants, for the next two to three months, will begin putting together a final list that they will take to county commissioners. Up until then, residents can contact the county or consultants and voice their input.

For information, check: www.drmp.com/planning/citrus-lrtp. Or e-mail Ken.cheekbocc.citrus.fl.us or Gkerndrmp.

_ Justin George can be reached at (352) 860-7309 or jgeorgesptimes.com.

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