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FDOT scraps Coastal Connector

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By Jeff Bryan

After a torrent of backlash from citizens and public officials about its plan for the “Coastal Connector,” the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) informed public officials and citizens it is abandoning its plans for the Coastal Connector alternative study and instead focus on direct improvements to Interstate 75, according to Mike Dew, secretary of FDOT in a letter issued local officials released to the public last Friday.

“Absolutely, I think that we should all be very,” said County Commissioner Kathy Bryant, whose district includes the greater Dunnellon area, which would have been severely impacted by the proposed Coastal Connector routes. “I think there were a lot of people who played a part in it. We should be happy. We should give a big thanks to the governor, cabinet, the legislative delegation as well as the grassroots effort and all of the people who worked on it. They listened; our voices were heard. It was a win for Marion County.”

The Coastal Connector and the I-75 Master Plan studies were high-level planning studies, Dew explained. Before a prospective alternate new corridor to I-75 could actually be identified, a full Project Development and Environment study needs to be completed, which would include identification of a locally preferred altemative. PD&E studies evaluate alternate locations for a potential facility as well as the potential that a “no-build” option should be pursued.

“No-build” options are required by law to be a viable consideration all through a PD&E process. Neither of the studies, Dew wrote, included what is required for a PD&E study and nothing in the work performed for the studies should be construed to equate to identification, designation or reservation of a transportation corridor for any future FDOT transportation facility.

“At this time, the Department has determined that the best approach to addressing traffic issues in the area is to abandon the new corridor concepts that were preliminarily discussed in the planning studies,” Dew wrote, noting the Department is “not continuing with the steps” that would be necessary to develop the alternate new corridors identified in either the Coastal Connector Alternative Corridor Evaluation Study or the North I-75 Master Plan Study. “With the rapidly evolving nature of the area and the number of different alternatives that have been proposed, the Department believes that it is appropriate to step back and refocus on improvement of I-75.

FDOT understands the potential impact of any proposal on the economically important equine and realty industries in Marion County, Dew wrote.

FDOT “is committed to continuing conversations with the region’s local governments and stakeholders to provide acceptable solutions that meet the region’s transportation needs,” Dew noted.

The rapport between local and state officials as well as the citizens, made it “easier for us to have those conversations,” with state leaders, Bryant said.

“We were able to share what the people are feeling in Marion County,” she explained, noting city and county officials signed letters while citizens did the same. “It was, all-in-all, a great effort, we got what we wanted.”