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Citrus County wants state funding to study traffic congestion during hurricane evacuations

Suncoast Parkway vista
Steve Newborn
WUSF Public Media
Citrus County Commissioners also said they're interested in opening a multipurpose building in the county that could serve as a shelter if people from other areas are stuck in Citrus when trying to evacuate.

During a Tuesday county commission meeting, officials discussed pushing the state to look at traffic issues in the region caused by the Suncoast Parkway.

During a hurricane evacuation, the Suncoast Parkway can be a major artery, delivering residents north. But Citrus County commissioners are worried about what happens when all the evacuees reach the end of the road.

The parkway, which starts in Hillsborough County, ends in Citrus County, with its north end connecting to State Road 44, the county's only major east-west corridor.

Citrus County Commissioners voted Tuesday to ask the state to help fund a study of traffic in that area, to figure out where congestion occurs and where drivers are entering or leaving the Suncoast Parkway.

County Commissioner Rebecca Bays said the traffic buildup on the Suncoast Parkway during a hurricane evacuation could cause major issues for local and state residents.

"It's not just about our residents,” Bays said. “It's about other people from across the state that are going to be seeking shelter. We, right now, are more or less a cul-de-sac, where that that traffic is going to end up."

Increased congestion on Interstate 75 during an evacuation could push more people to the Suncoast parkway, she said.

“We already know that I-75 is a problem between the turnpike and Gainesville,” Bays said. “People are going to continue to use that Suncoast Parkway in an evacuation situation, to stay off of I-75. They're going to get into our county and we're going to experience some pretty horrific traffic congestion that's going to be dumped into our county.”

In particular, Bays highlighted Inverness as an area that could see direct issues stemming from Suncoast Parkway traffic.

“[State Road] 44 in downtown Inverness has no capacity,” Bays said. “So we're at literally the same situation that the state is on I-75. And I think we need to be able to go to the state, and they need to be able to pay for this traffic study to tell us where these people are traversing from and where they're going. It’s pertinent.”

Commissioners could also consider building a shelter that could house people from other areas who get stuck in Citrus when trying to evacuate.

"A multipurpose building, because if we have people that are trying to evacuate and they get stuck in our county, we have no place for these people to go," Bays said.

Commissioners held Tuesday's meeting to discuss legislative priorities. They sent a slew of other priorities to lobbyists as they try to get funding for county projects during the state legislative session that begins in March. They include a request for additional aid to Citrus County’s public libraries, housing initiatives, sewer projects and other transportation projects that have been discussed by the Hernando/Citrus Metropolitan Planning Organization.

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