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Thursday, May 6, 2021

Sumter County administrator offers update on possible Florida Turnpike expansion

A westward extension of the Florida Turnpike could follow State Road 44.

Or a new road could follow a route of high-tension power lines.

Or it may not be built at all.

Those are three options explored in a final task force report due Nov. 15, Sumter County Administrator Bradley Arnold, who serves on the task force, told commissioners earlier this week. Construction, if it happens, is scheduled to begin in 2022, but will not be completed until the end of the decade.

The report, submitted to the governor and legislature, will guide the Florida Department of Transportation in its planning for a 40-mile turnpike connector between Wildwood and the Suncoast Parkway, which also would be extended 150 miles north to the Georgia border.

The two highways are part of an ambitious plan for more than 300 miles of new turnpike roads unveiled last year. Another turnpike is planned in southwest Florida from Polk County to Collier County. The program is called M-CORES, which stands for Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance.

Construction of the turnpike extension, expected to cost about $100 million a year, will be financed by revenue bonds, the State Transportation Trust Fund and loans from the Florida Department of Transportation Financing Corporation.

The purpose of the highways is to bring economic development to rural Florida counties, relieve congestion on Interstate 75 and offer a hurricane evacuation route.

Besides toll roads, the task forces also studied other forms of transportation including trails, rail and public transit. They also looked at the relationship of broadband, water and sewer services, as well as environmental impacts such as wildlife habitat and water quality.

Some local governments have been skeptical of the plan and they helped scuttle a similar effort in 1999, when a proposed 49-mile, $500 million turnpike extension was scrapped.

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