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    Suncoast Parkway opens to mixed feelings

    The first leg of the new toll road, which will eventually stretch from Citrus County to Hillsborough, is lauded and protested at the ceremonial opening. You can drive on it today.

    [Times photo: Maurice Rivenbark]
    Confetti fills the air Saturday at the start of a parade celebrating the opening of the Suncoast Parkway in Pasco County.

    By Times staff writer

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 4, 2001


    With protesters as a backdrop, planners and potential riders of the Suncoast Parkway on Saturday celebrated the completion of the state's fifth new tollway in seven years.

    The toll road, touted as a link from rural Citrus County to the urban centers of Tampa and St. Petersburg, has elicited hearty welcomes from road-weary commuters seeking an easier path to work.

    It also has generated cries of anger from environmentalists who have battled to protect endangered jays and to stop developmental sprawl.

    Jim Kimbrough, chairman of the state Transportation Commission, sees the Suncoast as a way to control where growth goes. Janet Masroy, chairwoman of Citizens Opposed to the Suncoast Tollway, sees it as a threat to water resources and animal habitats.

    Saturday's grand opening was ceremonial; today, riders get to try out the first 32 miles of the road, with a 10-mile stretch set to open this summer. The debate next moves to the final planned leg, from the Citrus-Hernando county line to Crystal River.

    "The decision on this great road was made years ago," said state House majority leader Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. "We have a responsibility to fulfill the plans that were made."

    Said Masroy, "We need for this road not to be built. It's very sad."

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