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State officially kills Florida Turnpike extension, citing public opposition

 This is where the extension would have begun, where Florida's Turnpike merges with Interstate 75
Google Maps
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This is where the extension would have begun, where Florida's Turnpike merges with Interstate 75

State transportation officials on Thursday officially killed a proposal that would have extended Florida's Turnpike from where it now ends at Interstate 75 near Wildwood east to connect with U.S. 19.

It would have impacted large areas in either Citrus, Sumter, Levy and Marion counties.

They cited public opposition that has swelled since the project was announced last year.

"Based on feedback received from across the four-county study area, significant concerns were identified with portions of all four initially proposed corridors," according to a release from the state Department of Transportation. "The Department deeply values community input and is committed to thoroughly exploring all concerns received during this process."

“The goal of every project is to ensure all needs are met, environmental concerns are addressed, and community characteristics are protected," wrote Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Jared W. Perdue.

"The region and local community should be assured that as we continue to refine and develop viable corridor concepts for this area, it will include extensive engagement with community leaders and the community as a whole.”

Instead, state transportation planners will look at expanding Interstate 75 north from where it connects with the turnpike. The area north of the interchange has been notorious for massive traffic jams in recent years.

The decision is considered a win for environmentalists, who have been lobbying various cities and counties to come out against the project.

"The "No Build" resolutions, and all of your tireless work across the region, are the reasons we are getting closer to a complete victory," wrote Cris Costello, Senior Organizing Manager for the Sierra Club, in an email to members of the No Roads to Ruin coalition Thursday.

The coalition, which was formed to oppose the proposed toll roads, said "If built, this extension would destroy large swaths of Florida’s last remaining rural lands, threaten waterways with pollution, endanger iconic wildlife, disrupt farmlands, and promote unsustainable sprawl."

Municipalities that officially came out against the turnpike extension include Citrus County, Inverness, Levy County and the city of Dunnellon.

Opponents said there is little need for the toll road and it would destroy some of the last remaining rural areas north of Tampa Bay.

They said it would threaten Rainbow Springs, one of the state's largest springs.

 Three proposed routes for the Turnpike extension
Florida Department of Transportation
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Three proposed routes for the Turnpike extension

The turnpike extension was a result of Senate Bill 100, which repealed the 2019 M-CORES (Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance) toll road mandate that required state transportation officials to build three new turnpikes in 2023.

However, the Bill still allowed FDOT to evaluate a new northern extension of the turnpike. It said a report was due to the governor, president of the Florida Senate and Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives by Dec. 31.

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Steve Newborn