The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has decided to pause its Northern Turnpike Extension project, citing no viable corridors for the toll road to pass through.
The Northern Turnpike Extension website says portions of the four proposed corridors sparked “significant concerns.”
“As a result, [FDOT] has decided to complete the ACE study without recommending a specific corridor and will not pursue the project any further until options can be reassessed to include these important community concerns,” the website says.
With the pause, local and state activists are cheering victory but plan to remain engaged on the issue. Some say the project will impact voting at the Aug. 23 primaries and Nov. 8 elections.
“People are celebrating,” Kim Wheeler, a Levy County resident, said in a phone interview. “It’s a pause. They’re celebrating, but I think they’re also being vigilant.”
The turnpike extension project only represents the latest attempt to place a major roadway through rural communities in Levy, Marion, Citrus and Sumter counties. Wheeler began organizing with other citizens to oppose the M-CORPS—Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance—project in 2019.
Wheeler moved to unincorporated Williston to retire with her husband in 2013. She saw their old home in southwest Florida slowly get overtaken by development, and now they own 40 acres.
Both M-CORPS and the Northern Turnpike Extension project came through a Florida Legislature directive to FDOT.
Senate Bill 100 created the drive for the extension project now on pause. The plan looked to extend the turnpike from its stopping point at Wildwood up through western Florida and toward Georgia.
Last December FDOT held community meetings showing four proposed corridors—one of which might turn into the turnpike. The Alternative Corridor North A route ran through Levy County south of Williston and Bronson to end in Chiefland. Hundreds turned out in opposition.
“It wouldn’t take our property, but it would be close enough that we’d hear the traffic and the noise rather than the crickets and the birds,” Wheeler said, explaining her fears about the project. “And, we would have headlights instead of starlight.”
Both the M-CORPS project and the Northern Turnpike Extension brought together communities in the affected counties as well as groups around Florida.
No Roads To Ruin started in 2019 when FDOT developed M-CORPS. On its steering committee sit representatives from the Sierra Club, Progress Florida, Save the Manatee Club, Florida Springs Council, Conservancy of Southwest Florida and Florida Conservation Voters.
Michael McGrath, organizing manager for the Siera Club, said the coalition has brought together 118 formal partners.
“We’re just going to continue to monitor where things go from here,” McGrath said. “If the Legislature attempts to try and mandate this or reengage with this, we’re ready to wage war again.”
Local governments also took “No Build” votes to signal their opposition. The Levy County Board of County Commissioners and Citrus Board of County Commissioners both passed No Build resolutions, along with the towns of Dunnellon, Inglis, Yankeetown and Inverness.
Wheeler said the issue has united community members from across the political spectrum with many concerned about home rule protections.
She said some members of the coalition changed their political designation in order to support candidates who opposed the turnpike project during the primaries.
“I’m hopeful that they will leave Levy County alone,” Wheeler said.