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Parkway opens to fanfare

With speeches, a marching band and protesters in pig masks, most of the 42-mile Suncoast Parkway opens.

[Times photo: Carrie Pratt]
At left, Betty Whitehouse, Don Crane, Jim Norman, Jim Kimbrough and David Russell participate in the ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially open the parkway.

By JAMES THORNER

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 4, 2001


Neither rain, nor cold, nor protesters wearing rubber pig snouts could stop the Suncoast Parkway from its appointed grand opening day.


The 42-mile toll road, the first 32 miles of which got the blessings of a ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday morning, is considered a boost to commuters and a bane to environmentalists.

A couple of hundred spectators huddled in and around a white tent to get out of the cold showers that fell on the fresh black asphalt near the State Road 52 interchange of the parkway.

They heard speeches by dignitaries such as Pasco County Commissioner Steve Simon, who praised the road's "connectivity," its role in breaking down social and economic barriers between Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties.

"We're going to have a new sense of cooperation," said Simon, who promised a breezy 45-minute commute between west Pasco and south Tampa's Westshore corporate district.

Nearly 100 protesters, most affiliated with the Sierra Club, occasionally booed their disapproval from the outskirts of the tent.

At one point, they chanted "Oink, oink, no porkway," a reference to the highway's $500-million-plus price tag. They consider the road a politically motivated pork-barrel project.

Countering the road opponents, another speaker, state Rep. David Russell of Hernando's 44th District, said the highway was a sign of political farsightedness.

"We didn't wait for gridlock to occur on Highway 19. We didn't wait for traffic fatalities to skyrocket," Russell told the crowd.

Other attendees included Pasco County Administrator John Gallagher, Pasco Sheriff Bob White, turnpike head James Ely and Jim Kimbrough, a banker who helped get the project off the ground over the past decade.

After the speeches, confetti cannons disgorged yellow, white green and purple streamers and confetti.

The Hudson High School marching band, police cars, Harley-Davidson motorcyclists and state Department of Transportation trucks made a virgin run down the highway. The road opens for the public today at 8 a.m.

A protester from Tampa, Bill Lorenzen, shook a tambourine and blew soap bubbles over the parade route.

He and most of his colleagues wore or carried T-shirts printed with a dead pig. The shirt reflected the group's plans to stymie construction of Phase II of the highway, northward across Citrus County.

But most of the audience admired the engineering feat that workers completed over the past 21/2 years. Bicyclists cruised the 29-mile bike path that paralleled the highway.

Sandra Davis, attending the ceremony with her two sons, looked askance at the anti-parkway crowd.

"They're protesting," Davis said as she returned to her car after the parade. "But you know they'll be using the parkway."

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