The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) announced Tuesday the start of a two-year-long study of traffic flow on 43 miles of US Highway 19 from Citrus County through Chiefland.
FDOT District 2 program manager Ryan Asmus addressed the Levy County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) at its regular meeting to roll out the plan. He said it will “consider ways to enhance and achieve free flow traffic conditions along US 19 from the planned connection of Suncoast 2, Phase 3 in Red Level [Citrus County] to NW 140th Street in Chiefland.”
Asmus said the department is just beginning the “project development and environment process study [PD&E]” and expects the project to last two years.
If the study deems any facilities appropriate, Asmus said they would be required to be completed no later than Dec. 31st of 2035.
Asmus defined free flow as the “absence of conflict points that slow, impede, or stop the primary traffic movement.” Conflict points include traffic signals, median openings or turn lanes onto or away from the main thoroughfare (US 19).
Asmus said FDOT will determine if there is a traffic flow problem, then consider potential solutions.
He added turn lanes, acceleration and deceleration lanes, increased distances in median openings, interchanges, overpasses, bypasses and frontage roads make up the list of mitigation efforts that could come from the study.
“FDOT is committed to transparency,” Asmus said as he promised to work with local communities to develop options.
No build “is always a part of the possible outcome,” he said.
FDOT has scheduled three public kickoff events that will each include the same presentation.
The first meeting is on Feb. 15 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the College of Central Florida Levy Campus 15390 NW Highway 19, then an online forum will be hosted by the FDOT on Thursday Feb. 17 from 6 to 7 p.m., followed by a second in-person open house on Monday, Feb. 21 from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m at the Inglis Community Center, 137 Highway 40 West.
FDOT will hold the in-person meetings in an open-house format with project displays and FDOT staff on hand to answer questions. Written comments will be accepted at in-person and online events.
According to Asmus, the virtual meeting does require registration, which citizens can accomplish online.
Commissioner Lilly Rooks asked about how the study impacts the potential turnpike extension proposed back in December, which drew strong pushback from Levy County residents. Asmus said that is a completely separate project from the US 19 study and directed Rooks to reach out to FDOT with her concerns.
“How much money is being taken away from Levy County?” she asked. Asmus reiterated that the study is funded separately from Levy County road grant or funds from the FDOT.
Rooks also said she was concerned that bypasses or other changes to US 19 could affect the speed at which emergency vehicles can reach destinations.
One resident spoke to the commission about bypasses installed in New Port Richey, which she claimed crippled businesses because vehicles went around the area instead of through town.
“If you make a bypass, you would have to make it a toll road to make up for the loss of local revenue,” she said.
Resident Tommy Hines asked about the Phase 2 timeline.
“Everytime the FDOT is connected to a road, the road it connects to is always a toll road,” he said.
“I’ve seen it all my life as sixth generation,” he said, citing the bypass road built in Starke where his friends have businesses. “That hurt those businesses. What is the solution about what is going to happen to the businesses?”
Asmus answered that if a bypass is built to go around communities FDOT can set it up “to provide opportunities to get off to get gas and use local businesses.”
“Once you build a bypass, you’re taking away from those businesses over time,” he said. “It’s happened time and again. Make sure the plan is not to hurt local businesses.”
Yankeetown Mayor Jack Schofield urged the Levy County BOCC to get in touch with the city of Starke to get numbers showing business losses after construction of the bypass.
“Help protect those businesses,” he said. “Be prepared to work with your counterparts.”
Asmus kept reassuring the BOCC and meeting attendees that FDOT would work with the public by holding public meetings over the length of the study and by collecting feedback and “refining alternatives based on public feedback.”
Once a recommended alternative is decided on, FDOT will hold a public hearing. Asmus reminded the BOCC that “no build” continues to be an option.
Citizens interested in following activity with the study sign up for email notices online. Asmus encouraged community members with questions or concerns to reach out to him at Ryan.Asmus@dot.state.fl.us or to FDOT principal engineer Brian Brooker at Brian.Brooker@dot.state.fl.us.