A proposed blue line that represents a turnpike extension that would run through Levy County is sparking a strong reaction from the Levy County Board of County Commissioners and residents who are saying “no build.”
More than 200 residents stood in solidarity on Tuesday against a proposed Northern Turnpike Extension (NTE) that would extend the Florida Turnpike “from its northerly terminus in Wildwood to a logical and appropriate terminus as determined by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT),” according to the FDOT project website.
BOCC members say state representatives and project managers aren’t communicating with them when they call and email with constituent concerns and questions. So they invited FDOT project leaders from two roadway initiatives that will impact Levy County to present plan details to them and the public.
William Burke, project manager for Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise (HDR), explained to the BOCC those details from an overhead PowerPoint that listed project goals for extending the turnpike as enhancing regional connectivity, addressing regional congestion and safety, accommodating increased travel demand, and improving hurricane evacuation.
FDOT District 2 Engineer Ryan Asmus discussed and answered questions about the second project—the U.S. Highway 19 Project Development and Environment (PD&E) study that launches in early 2022.
According to the project website, this initiative will “consider improvements to US 19 in Citrus and Levy counties,” and ” will study ways to achieve free flow traffic conditions along US 19 from the terminus of Suncoast Parkway 2 Phase 3 north to NW 140th Street in Chiefland.”
The presentation on Tuesday during the BOCC’s last regular meeting of 2021 went over just like the Alternative Corridor Evaluation (ACE) kickoff event held at College of Central Florida Levy Campus in Chiefland on Dec. 7 did—with hundreds of people showing up to send the message of “No build.”
BOCC Chair of the meeting John Meeks had to use his gavel several times as he warned the crowd that was bursting into rounds of applause and shouting comments in response to residents speaking out against the project.
The consensus from residents, who all spoke in opposition of the turnpike extension, was that it would result in an increase in traffic and it would destroy many housing and agriculture properties that lie in its path.
Attorney Brandon Peters of Williston told the BOCC that he has been holding well-attended workshops for residents on how to protect their land from potential eminent domain procedures.
“Levy County’s got something to say,” Peters said. “The FDOT did a study and they called it M-CORES with millions and millions of our taxpayers’ dollars. And the lobbyists didn’t like the results of that study because it said no build.
“So the lobbyists go to our elected officials and say give us more of the taxpayers money to do another study,” he said. “And so if you’re state Rep. Joe Harding or state Sen. Jennifer Bradley and you supported doing more studies because the lobbyists didn’t like the results of the first study, Levy County’s got something to say.”
The crowd applauded as Peters continued.
“It’s not okay for you now having to prove that study to stay silently on the sidelines with your hands in your pockets and your mouths shut and tell us we’re going to wait and see what the study says,” he said.
Peters then demanded an “end to the money grab in Tallahassee” and referred to an advertisement he said that is being run by the development company Enterprise Florida. The ad states, “our rural 28 million acres is a blank canvas ready for businesses to paint,” Peters said.
The company, Enterprise Florida, Inc, (EFI) does state on its website: “What could you do with Florida’s 28 million acres of available rural space? Anything you want.”
EFI also states that “Florida’s rural regions give companies a vast supply of affordable land to develop, while being just an hour’s drive from urban centers.”
BOCC members all agreed that there has been a lack of communication from Harding and Bradley with emails and phone messages going unreturned for months now.
Mainstreet Daily News has also reached out to both representatives for comment and received no response by the publication deadline.
It was Commissioner Lilly Rooks who moved for the BOCC to approve a resolution that puts Levy County on record as opposing the turnpike extension and asking for state leaders to help nix the project.
“I want them to know that we are serious about this,” she said.
Commissioner Matt Brooks suggested a petition submitted with thousands of signatures be added to the resolution and the motion was amended.
Resolution 2021-151 states that the turnpike extensions are “of significant concern to Levy County residents and the Board is that two of the corridors – one titled ‘Alternative Corridor North A’ and another titled ‘Alternative Corridor North B’ would bisect and have significant, negative impacts on Levy County.”
It continues, “In order to protect Levy County’s environmental and agricultural assets; its natural areas providing habitat, recreation and ecotourism; its rural lands and neighborhoods, and to preserve Levy County’s quality of life; the Board respectfully requests the Governor, the Florida Legislature, and the FDOT select the ‘No Build’ option for the Northern Turnpike Extension at this time.”
As the county attorney read the resolution summary aloud, the residents in the room cheered and applauded.
The resolution also requested that any projects moving forward “provide meaningful public input processes and that the concerns of the Board and Levy County residents are addressed for any proposed corridor or route that would bisect Levy County. “
The BOCC added a request that a Levy County designee, “be appointed to serve on the Environmental Technical Advisory Team (ETAT) for the Northern Turnpike Extension Project or any other turnpike or limited access roadway project that is proposed within Levy County.”
The resolution will be sent to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the secretary of FDOT, the president of the Florida Senate and the speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.