1. Business

Extend the Suncoast Parkway? No thanks. Florida has more pressing transportation needs.

The proposed extension would likely cut through several sparsely populated rural counties.
The northern reaches of the Suncoast Parkway often don't get much traffic.
The northern reaches of the Suncoast Parkway often don't get much traffic.
Published Feb. 1, 2019

Here we go again.

Senate President Bill Galvano has dusted off the idea of extending the Suncoast Parkway to Interstate 10 and then to the Georgia border.

The plan would push the lightly used toll road through some of the state's least-populated counties all in the name of needing "to improve access so prosperity can return there."

And here I thought it was 2019, not 1919.

Tearing up what's left of the state's rural tranquility in chase of the almighty dollar is misguided. Most of the people who would use such a road already live in the area or would drive right through without adding more than a few bucks for gas or a bag of chips to the local economy. Much of the "prosperity" would come in the form of unchecked sprawl, which the state needs as much as another Red Tide outbreak.

The Suncoast Parkway opened in 2001. It was a much-needed addition, at least in how it helped connect the Veterans Expressway in Tampa to the rapidly growing parts of southern Pasco County.

But the parkway winds all the way through Hernando County to the Citrus County line. In the northern reaches, it's so sparsely used that it's like driving on your own personal highway. Despite that, the state is spending $135 million to extend the four-lane road 13 miles farther north to Lecanto.

Galvano didn't say specifically which route the proposed road would follow to link up with Interstate 10. From Lecanto, it's about 110 miles, and another 20 miles to Georgia.

It's a good bet that it would pass through Levy County. From there, possibly some combination of Gilchrist, Dixie, Lafayette, Taylor and Madison. How small are they? On an average day, more drivers — about 30,000 — use Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa than live in many of those counties.

Sure, the state is growing. About 6 million more people will call Florida home by 2045, according to mid-range estimates from the University of Florida. But they won't be evenly distributed around the state. Most will gravitate toward our big cities, including the Tampa Bay area, projections show.

MORE BUSINESS: The argument for building the controversial 50-story condo tower in St. Petersburg.

Hillsborough alone could add 1 million residents over the next 25 years. We will need to widen existing local roads, and, yes, build new ones to accommodate the surge in population. As will Orlando, Miami, Fort Lauderdale and the state's other big cities.

Levy County, on the other hand, will grow by just 15,000 people during that period, according to the highest end of the estimates. Dixie will add 6,000, about the same as Gilchrist and Taylor. The low end of the projections has them not growing at all.

So this new road isn't anything like linking busy Pasco to Tampa. Very few people commute between Lecanto (pop. 6,000) and Perry (pop. 7,000), or Dunnellon (pop. 1,800) and Newberry (pop. 6,000).

We shouldn't neglect our rural counties. Far from it. If they need an economic pick-me-up, the state has other levers it can pull. But building a massive road in the hope it will boost a sparsely-populated area's financial prospects is a risky use of taxpayer money. In this case, too risky, given how few drivers use the northern part of the existing parkway.

The state, after all, has only so much money to spend on roads. We need to make every dollar count.

On Friday, as he announced his state budget, Gov. Ron DeSantis was circumspect about the proposed road. He said he wanted to know more, before adding that congestion in urban areas including Miami and Central Florida needed addressing.

Here's hoping the governor lends some common sense to this debate. The state has too many pressing transportation needs to spend what will likely be way more than $1 billion on a road through nowhere.

Contact Graham Brink at Follow @GrahamBrink.


  1. Muhammad Abdur-Rahim points out the location of what he believed to be a former African American cemetery next to the parking lot of FrankCrum Staffing, 100 S Missouri Ave. in Clearwater. Now, it appears the cemetery may have been on an adjacent lot where the building stands. [JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Times]
    Archaeologists were scanning a vacant lot for bodies until an old city record pointed them to an adjacent property.
  2. Construction continues on the new Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus of Pasco County located in Wesley Chapel. The center will feature a 98,000 square foot sports center with eight bio-cushioned hardwood courts that can be utilized for basketball, volleyball, mixed martial arts, gymnastics, wrestling, soccer, futsal, cheerleading and dance. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
    The $44 million facility is expected to hold its first tournament in September
  3.  [Getty Images]
    While credit scores will fall for millions, millions more will see their scores rise.
  4. Lucky's Market ahead of its St. Petersburg grand opening just two years ago. [Times (2018)]
    Only one Florida Lucky’s Market will remain a Lucky’s. The future of the Tampa Bay locations is still unclear.
  5. Internet crimes are on the rise in Florida. [AP Photo]
    Also: Why were the SunTrust Financial Centre lights purple? And the cost of owning an electric car.
  6. AdventHealth's central Pasco emergency room at t 16625 State Road 54 is shown here. The hospital chain recently purchased 18 acres on State Road 52 at the northern entrance of the Mirada development west of Dade City. [MICHELE MILLER  |  Times]
    The hospital chain pays $4.5 million to buy 18 acres from a Metro Development Group affiliate.
  7. [Getty Images] [Getty Images]
    It would probably be good to ask his thoughts, the advice columnist writes.
  8. Renderings by Arquitectonica of the proposed Red Apple Group condo project in St. Petersburg. Courtesy of Arquitectonica [Courtesy of Arquitectonica]
    $300 million. 45 stories. A little closer to existence.
  9. A group of East Lake residents has erected signs protesting a 44-home development proposed by Tarpon Springs developer Pioneer Homes. Tarpon Springs commissioners recently voted to annex the site into the city. [Courtesy of Marc Washburn]
    The action targets a plan to build 44 homes on land between Keystone Road and Highland Avenue, double what was allowed in the East Lake District.
  10. People gather around an auctioneer at the liquidation sale following local bike store Flying Fish Bikes closing [Romy Ellenbogen]
    The liquidation sale was packed with people hoping to get discounted bike gear.