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City, county may again consider U.S. 19 bypass

DOT officials would have to study and sign off on the proposal for Crystal River.

By CATHERINE E. SHOICHET
Published January 31, 2007


CRYSTAL RIVER - City and county officials could meet soon to discuss building a U.S. 19 bypass.

City Council members have long discussed that option as a way to relieve traffic and make downtown more pedestrian-friendly. And county commissioners passed a resolution that supported studying the idea several months ago.

But the proposal does not have support from the state Department of Transportation yet, according to Crystal River City Manager Andrew Houston.

In an e-mail Tuesday, Houston asked County Administrator June Fisher to help schedule a workshop between DOT officials, county commissioners and City Council members "to discuss transportation issues."

Several City Council members support the bypass, Houston said, because the DOT's plans to widen U.S. 19 would encroach on the city's downtown.

"We would like to see Crystal River be more of a walkable community, and that kind of works against that," he said.

A resolution unanimously approved by county commissioners in October describes growing traffic on U.S. 19 as a "serious problem" and asks DOT officials to perform a feasibility study of the bypass proposal.

Building a bypass, the resolution says, would prevent problems that expanding the existing road could cause downtown.

But the state hasn't started a formal study of the issue.

"We can't seem to quite get to a point of somebody saying 'yes, let's do it,' " Houston said Tuesday.

In May, DOT District 7 Secretary Donald J. Skelton told Crystal River officials that the DOT would proceed with a study once the county includes the bypass in its comprehensive plan.

That, Citrus Director of Development Services Gary Maidhof said, could force the county to find funding for the project.

"Those types of projects are not inexpensive," he said.

Funding could come from the county's legislative delegation, Maidhof said.

This isn't the first time local officials have considered building a U.S. 19 bypass.

A county consultant conducted a study in the late 1980s, Maidhof said.

"They even acquired some properties, but they never completed it, and the project eventually was decommissioned," Maidhof said. "And, in fact, we have sold off some of the properties."

Houston said Fisher had not yet replied to his e-mail late Tuesday afternoon, and no date for the workshop had been scheduled.

Times staff writer Elena Lesley contributed to this article. Catherine E. Shoichet can be reached at cshoichet@sptimes.com or 860-7309.