Op-Ed by Ralph Massullo |  Citrus County Chronicle

Americans have always had a pioneering spirit, always being the first to explore a new area.

Many of the original settlers to our great country came from more developed lands in hopes to start a new life. That same spirit fostered the movement of people throughout our country.

In the process, transportation systems developed that facilitated the movement of people. Early trials, railways, and roads were built to promote commerce and open new territories. In some cases they even defined borders. In fact if it were not for the Canadian Pacific Railroad a portion of British Columbia might be part of the United States, but that is a discussion for another time. Suffice it to say that well-planned and developed routes of transportation have always been and will continue to be very important to all of us.

In the mid 1950s then President Dwight D. Eisenhower started the Interstate Highway System which now encompasses 49,000 miles of roads in all 50 states. It is interesting to note that besides being the 34th president, he was also the supreme allied commander in the European Theater during World War II and responsible for planning D-Day and the invasion of Europe. He certainly understood logistics and the importance of adequate and viable transportation systems.

It would be hard to imagine not having our interstate system today and being able to travel as freely, quickly and safely as that system provides. Eisenhower’s vision was instrumental in affording us that luxury that we often take for granted. By the way, the population of the United States has doubled since the first portion of the interstate roadway was opened.

About the same time as the Interstate Highway System was being constructed, individual states recognized the need for more controlled access roads within their respective boundaries. These roads were paid for in part by tolls to the users and funded through general revenue and bonds. Charles Costar, a Florida businessman, after driving the Pennsylvania Turnpike while on vacation, envisioned a similar road for our state. He worked with the governor and the Legislature at that time and Florida Turnpike Authority was established.

Today the turnpike with its various sections, including the Suncoast Parkway, encompasses 500 miles of roadways within the state. It is also interesting to note that when Mr. Costar first envisioned Florida’s Turnpike the population of Florida was only 3 million people. Currently our state’s population is over 21 million and we are growing by over a thousand people per day. Can you imagine the nightmare of traveling today if it were not for visionaries like Eisenhower and Costar?

The Suncoast Parkway is beginning another phase of construction known as Suncoast 2, which will bring the road from U.S. 98 to State Road 44 and hopefully to County Road 486. Having the parkway temporarily end on S.R. 44 will create an increased traffic burden on that already-busy road and force more through traffic into Inverness and Crystal River. Alternatively, by ending the Suncoast 2 temporarily on C.R. 486, more traffic can be diverted away from the more congested areas and utilize roadways that are better suited for that additional volume.

Recently a federal judge reversed a costly injunction on construction and work can begin again. Hopefully, the powers that be can see the wisdom in ending this section at C.R. 486 and encourage the state to continue construction to that point.

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) released some preliminary proposed routes several weeks ago for the next phase of the parkway that were not acceptable to many citizens in Citrus and Marion counties. All of these routes seemed to transect larger residential developments as well as many horse farms in an effort to connect to Interstate 75 somewhere north of Marion County. Given the negative sentiments, FDOT has shelved those plans for the time being, but that may be a short-sighted decision.

As our state continues to grow we need to make preparations for the increased population as well as maximize the economic opportunities to our area that the parkway would provide. Planning is an arduous task and no one wants a roadway in their backyard, but consistently working through issues to arrive at the best solution is far better than stopping the process and waiting for a more subjective opportune time. Momentum is lost in that process and there are increased costs in gaining the inertia to begin again.

One viable alternative might be to extend the parkway from S.R. 44 to C.R. 486 as proposed and then track west along the power line rights of way to U.S. 19 north of Crystal River. The road could then precede north, either following U.S. 19 or even utilizing some of the rights of way along the more isolated sections of U.S. 19 and plan for bypasses around the communities and towns along that route. It could then track east and tie into either Interstate 75 or even Interstate 10.

Utilizing existing rights of way, state lands and less populated areas might lessen the overall costs and decrease negative sentiment while meeting the objectives of a north-south corridor on the west coast of Florida with connections eastward toward deep-water ports on the northeast coast of the state — a true “Coastal Connector.”

I have discussed this idea with state Sen. Wilton Simpson and officials at FDOT and will continue to pursue discussions with all stakeholders on the potential feasibility of continuing planning and finding the best route for the next phase of the parkway.

Now is not the time to stop progressing. We have to envision our future and work hard together today so that future will be the best it can be for those who come after us. We owe that to the next generation and hopefully they will inherit that same pioneering spirit and pass it forward.

Ralph Massullo, MD, is a state representative in the Florida Legislature representing District 34. He has degrees in Industrial Engineering and Medicine. He interned in Psychiatry and Medicine and completed a residency and fellowships in Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery.

Article last accessed here on July 24, 2018