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Perdue Emphasizes Community Engagement in Road Planning

Perdue Emphasizes Community Engagement in Road Planning

What’s In Store For Marion County’s State-Owned Road Projects?

At Horse Farms Forever’s Conservation Summit on November 14, Jared Perdue, Secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and Tracy Straub, Assistant Marion County Administrator, shared detailed information about Florida’s transportation approach and goals, and specific road improvement projects in Marion County. Secretary Perdue, who took over the post this past April, gave an update on the improvements to I-75 and the Northern Turnpike Extension project, which will resume in one to two years. He also emphasized FDOT’s new emphasis to recognize and protect the unique heritage and culture of Florida’s communities while at the same time improving road safety and efficiency.

The partnership between FDOT and Marion County was also highlighted as a vital component to completing nearly 42 road improvement projects that will widen and extend roads, build several flyovers, and a new interstate interchange at NW 49th Street. These projects will help divert traffic off of I-75 and allow residents to travel both north-south and east-west without having to access I-75. This blog will highlight important aspects of Secretary Perdue’s presentation. We will cover Administrator Straub’s in detail in the next release. To Summit livestream was recorded, and is available for viewing here.

Efficient Transportation Challenged By Astronomical Growth

At the beginning of his talk, Secretary Perdue shared that the core FDOT mission is to provide safe and efficient transportation for the citizens of Florida, and to support the supply chain of goods and services. This is a challenge as Florida’s population continues to grow.

“This is one of the challenges with transportation – how do you provide necessary transportation, but still protect and conserve what makes Florida special,” said Secretary Perdue. “We have a unique challenge in Florida. We are the third most populous state in the union. We are growing rapidly, exponentially. Sixty percent of our growth is concentrated in 10 Counties: Osceola, St. Johns, Sumter, Walton, Lake, Orange, Santa Rosa, Manatee, Nassau, and Lee.. A lot of areas in Florida are growing at 20 percent annually.” Perdue shared that for every 100 people that move out of Marion County, 500 move in. “FDOT plans transportation projects based on a 3 percent population growth rate, and many areas of Florida are growing in excess of 20 percent, and so here’s what that means for an individual,” he said. “Yesterday, you had a 30-minute commute to work. It’s almost like you went to bed and woke up the next morning and all of a sudden, you’re sitting in traffic for an hour and a half trying to get back and forth to work.”

Transportation systems typically take 15 to 20 years to complete because of limited and finite resources that have to be spread across a very large state. FDOT must focus on a long timeline – planning for growth two decades in the future while maintaining enough capacity to handle emergency situations, like the recent devastation from Hurricane Ian. This year’s FDOT budget of $12.6 Billion is the largest in history.

“The challenge is because those areas have been growing so fast, 20, 30, and some areas even 40 percent growth, and so here’s the challenge, how do we think about transportation infrastructure differently so that we can start to catch up strategically,” he added.

Northern Turnpike Extension Is Still In The Plans

Secretary Perdue answered the most pressing question about the proposed NTE project to extend Florida’s Turnpike from Wildwood to U.S. 19 in Levy County. The NTE project was paused earlier this year, but Perdue confirmed that it was still in FDOT’s plans. The time frame has not been determined, but work on the proposed NTE project will start within the next one to two years. The project was paused due to the overwhelming negative feedback about the proposed routes from the communities in its path. FDOT’s response was to hit the pause button.

“Yes, we hear you, we don’t want to put a road through the heart of your community,” he said. “But we know we have to do something so let’s step back, let’s reengage with our communities and let’s talk about what those right solutions are because we know we need something.”

Perdue said the Northern Extension will connect to I-75 because it fits together as part of a bigger picture of how to solve the transportation challenges; because Florida is going to continue to grow and people and goods and services need to get from point A to point B. The NTE is also important for the future in terms of resiliency, hurricane evacuations, and natural disasters.

“We know we need to do something,’’ he said. “We want that something to preserve your farmland, to fit the growth patterns that are occurring. We want that something to continue to provide the needed transportation while embracing and maintaining the character of your community. And we believe that there’s a way to do that.”

A Love For Rural Florida

“I love the idea of protecting horse farms. I love horses and owned them myself,” he said. “I love Marion County and I love rural Florida. I was born and raised in rural Florida, so it’s really important to me.”

Secretary Perdue emphasized FDOT’s value on relationships with local governments and the goal to embrace and protect the character of communities.

“The reality is that anytime we set out to do something important, the way that people feel and that way that we engage them matters. It is absolutely critical for the future success of transportation systems in Florida,” said Secretary Perdue. He also addressed preservation and conservation directly. “What does that mean for how we deliver transportation in the future?” asked Secretary Perdue. “We believe that in order to successfully deliver infrastructure for the future based on the way that society has changed, based on the way that the state of Florida is changing and growing and adapting, that the absolute number one priority is for transportation infrastructure to embrace communities.”

He described the diversity of Florida and how important embracing this diversity is for transportation projects. Each community has its own culture, heritage, traditions, and also its own vision for the future.

“We believe that enabling transportation infrastructure to be a part of that heritage, a part of that tradition, but also a part of that vision for the future is where success is in transportation infrastructure,” he said. “This has become an umbrella focus for us. We believe that every single transportation infrastructure project can truly embrace the community that it lies within.”

Question from Kevin Sheilley of the Ocala Metro CEP

QUESTION:

Two recent hurricanes came through Florida, 1 hitting the southwest coast and another the southeast coast.

  •  How did the interstate system handle the evacuation routes from the coastal areas?
  •  And, does there need to be a connection between the Suncoast Parkway and I-75 to enhance evacuations?

ANSWER By Secretary Perdue:

“There are a lot of complexities that go into evacuations, depending on where the storm is going, how much time people have to make decisions and what available routes there are. Depending on where the storm hits in Florida the plan completely changes. With Hurricane Ian, the path was changing constantly. The forecast wasn’t set in stone and it changed at the last minute. People had hours to figure out what to do.

We have outfitted our interstate system with technology so that we can watch evacuation behavior in real time. In the case of Ian, we saw a lot of congestion on I-4 and I-75 in general – in particular those hot spots where traffic is always an issue. If the facility is not reliable in everyday life, how is it going to be reliable in an evacuation?

Did our facilities do well during the Hurricane. I would say the answer is yes. Everybody that decided to get out, got out. We opened the shoulder of the road to help with traffic flow, but those pinch points on I-4 and I-75 were still there.

We want to build facilities to be reliable and resilient. To do that, you have to not only relieve those problem areas that already exist, but also build out for future growth.

We believe that something is needed for evacuation between I-75 and the West Coast. We will have to work through that solution together.”

Question from Navroz Sanju of HDG Hotels

QUESTION:

We hear a lot about autopilots in cars and self-driving trucks.

  •  What is the future of self-driving cars and self-driving trucks on the interstate system?
  •  And is there any new technology you are including when you build a road to work with those systems?

ANSWER:

“Technology is one of our big strategic focus areas. Here in Florida we have 100 percent coverage of our Interstate System with the most current detection devices. We have the backbone in place for the future of autonomous driving vehicles. Technology changes so fast, and there’s been a lot of emotional speculation about what the future will look like.

We’ve developed new standards for these technologies to work. Artificial intelligence is always collecting data and using it to make decisions. Our infrastructure needs to facilitate that.

So, what’s realistic over the next ten to twenty years? First, there is tremendous efficiency to be gained on interstates using autonomous technology, such as the platooning of trucks. Our facilities must be upgraded for this future. We are already working on that. Autonomous vehicles can test and pilot on the Florida Interstate System. Second, what is really important is the ability of technology infrastructure to communicate important information to every day drivers – lane closures, stopped traffic, and accidents can be communicated to navigation apps by the road itself, helping drivers to make decisions.

We recently rolled out a pilot program that will allow every lane closure to be shared in real time with navigation apps.”

Early Feedback

Getting early feedback from communities is a new way of thinking for FDOT, but Secretary Perdue said that it’s “been hugely successful. Sitting down with communities before we decide what’s going to be done on that project to ask you: Hey what do you want to see – What would you like the feel of this roadway to be – How would you like it to look – What type of things would you like to see incorporated to help it align with your community?”

He said one example of this approach is the Wekiva Parkway, which protected more land for conservation than it impacted.

“I’ll give an example in terms of preserving and conserving with transportation actually having a net positive impact on what Florida’s true character is with the Wekiva Parkway in central Florida,” said Secretary Perdue. “A lot of the Wekiva Parkway, that’s a new toll facility, utilized an existing road, State Road 46 for a lot of the way, and we had a net positive impact on the environment because we actually purchased more conservation land as part of the project than we impacted with the project itself.”

However, due to FDOT budget constraints, not all suggestions are possible, but, when FDOT engages communities early in the process, the community becomes part of the team.

“Then we together can implement infrastructure that takes on the character of the community that it lies within,” he said.

Improvements to I-75

FDOT is coordinating closely with Marion County on nearly 42 projects and one of the top priority projects is improving I-75. The traffic congestion is a capacity issue, but it’s also related to the surrounding road network and because the Florida Turnpike ends at I-75 just south of Marion County. The goal of the master plan is to enhance mobility, improve reliability, and safety. There are two phases to the project with phase one adding additional lanes in each direction between SR 44 and SR 326. Phase one also includes interim modifications of the SR 326 and SR 40 interchanges. Phase two is ongoing.

The I-75 Master Plan is also divided into two study areas. The Southern section is approximately 22.5 miles and it begins at Florida’s Turnpike, SR 91 in Sumter County and ends at SR 200 in Marion County. Interchanges to be evaluated include Florida’s Turnpike, SR 44, CR 484 and SR 200. The Northern section is approximately 25.3 miles and it begins north of SR 200 in Marion County and ends south of CR 234 in Alachua County. Interchanges to be evaluated include SR 40, U.S. 27, Northwest 49th Street (planned), SR 326, CR 318 and CR 234.

The Master Plan is to “identify improvement options for I-75 that we can affect quickly,” he said. “We don’t have 15 to 20 years. As a matter fact we need something there that should’ve been done probably 10 years ago based on how fast we are growing.”

The interstate must meet several different needs in Marion County including growing residential communities, heavy industrial development, and commercial development along the interstate. The challenge is to provide a facility for all of the different types of vehicles.

“This is a big conversation and it all works together but you don’t want to get lost in talking about what we need 20 or 30 years down the road when it needs it fixed today,” he said. “We’re looking at phase one and of what can we implement quickly and efficiently that will actually improve at a minimum the reliability of the roadway.”

The I-75/CR 484 project is .75 miles and begins west of SW 20th Avenue Road and ends east of CR 475A. The improvements include on/off ramps, CR 484 at 1-75 interchange, CR 484/475A interchange, bike lanes, sidewalk connectivity, and improved lighting. The cost of this project is close to $10 million.

FDOT is partnering with Marion County to build a new interchange on I-75 at NW 49th Street. Marion County and FDOT are both providing the funds to build the new interchange, which is estimated to cost about $81 million.

“Marion County is absolutely a vital partner in transportation,” he said. “It’s truly a seamless partnership.”

The new interchange is a Diverging Diamond Interchange (DDI) that will help improve interstate and regional mobility, accommodate future traffic growth and provide relief to existing surrounding interchanges. The right of way will be funded in 2022/2023 and the design will be completed in late 2024. The construction is expected to start in 2024.

The new interchange “is a broader picture of your how do you manage the system around that I-75 corridor and this is a going to help provide some of that connectivity,” said Secretary Perdue.

Next: Focus on County-Owned Projects

Tracy Straub, PE, Marion County Administrator, Public Works and Growth Services, also presented an update of the top road improvement projects including the area known as the Ocala Triangle, which includes State Road 200 and Southwest 60th and Southwest 80th Avenues. Straub gave an update on the CR 318 and I-75 Sunny Oaks/Irvine area. Our next blog will cover Administrator Straub’s presentation, including downloadable maps for the Marion County projects. Stay tuned!

Photos by Sean Dowie Photography. Remaining graphics provided by FDOT.

Watch the entire Summit presentation online:

Questions About Conservation?

Contact Busy Shires, our Director of Conservation Strategies, by email or by phone 386-853-4437.

It is the vision and mission of Horse Farms Forever to inspire conservation of horse farms through education, awareness and idea exchange so as to preserve natural pasture land focusing on horses and their habitats, to protect soil and water on which they depend, and minimize land use conflicts
in Marion County, Florida.

We are watchful of government and others to preserve and protect horse farms and farmland for future generations - especially in the Farmland Preservation Area. We are neither anti-growth nor anti-development; we encourage urban growth to remain inside the Urban Growth Boundary.

Horse Farms Forever® is a Florida not-for-profit corporation registered with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services as a charitable organization and approved as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) corporation by the Internal Revenue Service. Horse Farms Forever® does not have a political mission. Our status as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization does not allow us to participate or intervene in political activities. The organization will neither advocate on behalf of political candidates nor advocate for the passage of legislation.

 

Congestion-Relieving Road Projects in Marion County: Where and When

Congestion-Relieving Road Projects in Marion County: Where and When

A Conversation About Transportation with Marion County’s Tracy Straub

There was never a time where Marion County wasn’t home to Tracy Straub. A fifth-generation Marion County Floridian, she has a deep perspective on the changes that have taken place in the County and its needs going forward. Straub’s career at the County began 21 years ago. She has been the County Engineer and now leads both Public Works and Growth Services as an Assistant County Administrator. We were honored to have her share the latest on road construction in the County at our Conservation Summit in November. In her presentation, she shared timelines and details for the major projects coming to fruition around the County, particularly those that will help alleviate congestion and pinch-points on I-75 and those impacting horse farms and the equine industry.

Straub focused on the area known as the Ocala Triangle, which includes SR 200 and SW 60th and SW 80th Avenues. She also gave an update on the projects at the CR 318 and I-75 intersection in the Sunny Oaks/Irvine area.

Concentrated Growth

Over the past five years, Marion County has experienced rapid growth of industrial, commercial and residential development. As a result, there are 42 road improvement projects in the County. One indicator of growth is the number of building permits issued over the past 12 years.

 “In the last couple of years, we have been with issuing around 5,000 certificates of occupancy for residential building permits,” said Straub. “In 2019, we were only half that number and when you go back as far as 2010, which, of course we were sitting in the economic recession, there were only a couple hundred single-family residential permits issued,” said Straub.

While the growth is unrelenting, it’s important to understand that Marion County’s land uses funnel development into a concentrated area. Straub reminded us that forty-nine percent of the County is made up of the Ocala National Forest, other conservation lands, and rivers, springs, and lakes. About nineteen percent of it is the Farmland Preservation Area where development is limited. Another twenty-one percent is rural land or designated as low-density land use. The Urban Growth Area only encompasses about eleven percent of the County. The County is home to abundant natural resources, including two-hundred miles of trails for hiking and biking, and equestrian use, more than 150 miles of streams and rivers, three first magnitude springs, five second magnitude springs, twenty-plus third magnitude springs, and countless other springs, Straub said.

 “We continue to thrive as a natural gem, and we recognize that as we watch our growth and development occur,” she said. “But through it all, of course, we do have a road network.”

The Structure of the Infrastructure

Marion County maintains approximately 2,500 centerline miles of road. About half of the roads are subdivision roads and another half are the major road network. In addition, there are many roads that the County does not maintain. These roads are maintained by another agency such as FDOT, or another municipality. There are also private subdivisions and dirt roads in the Ocala National Forest that were never accepted into the county maintenance system. In addition to the road system, there drainage retention areas, right of ways, 92,000 traffic signs and 131 traffic signals.

To build and design roads, the County partners with the Ocala Marion Transportation Planning Organization (TPO) Board, which is the policy-making body responsible for the overall guidance of the transportation planning process in Marion County. The TPO Board is comprised of twelve voting members including the City of Ocala Mayor and four members of the City Council; all five Marion County Commissioners; and one representative each from the Belleview City Commission and the Dunnellon City Council. The Florida Department of Transportation District 5 Secretary is a member of the TPO Board as a non-voting member.

Planning and building roads is a lengthy and time-consuming process that takes 15 to 20 years.

The TPO develops a 25-year planning document, the 2045 Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) that outlines the vision for transportation in Marion County. The LRTP considers all modes of transportation, including roadways, transit, bicycles, pedestrians, freight and aviation. The LRTP plan includes approximately $4 Billion worth of programming anticipated between 2020 and 2045, which is funded by several agencies, including Marion County, all of the cities and FDOT. However, there are an additional $750 million of unfunded needs also identified.

In addition to the 25-year plan, there is a five-year plan, the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) serves as the short-range transportation planning document for Ocala/Marion County.

“In our current five-year plan there are $186 Million worth of projects funded in the five-year projection,” said Straub.

Road improvement projects are categorized into different types. The capacity projects, which are funded at $131 million, are focused on adding lanes, signalized improvements, and turn lanes. New capacity roads have a grass median, bike lanes on both sides, a sidewalk on one side, and a multi-use trail on the other side.

“This is a lot of funding for Marion County and I want to pause and to reflect on that because that has a lot to do with the sales tax initiative and our penny sales tax,” she said. “Your TIP does not include sales tax revenues beyond the collections in December 31, 2024 so it’s important to know that we have a lot of money available to us to try to catch up from where we weren’t able to produce projects during the economic downturn, but we don’t budget beyond what we know we’ve been given.”

Photos of Tracy Straub, Rob Desino and Linda Bammann by Sean Dowie Photography. Remaining graphics provided by Marion County.

Question from Rob Desino of Ocala Horse Properties

QUESTION:

The Secretary talked about the new I-75 interchange at 49th Street and the timing of that work. The County plans to extend 49th Street to the west to connect with NW 70th Avenue, also known as 225A.

  • How long do you project it will be before we can drive on the new NW 49th Street?
  • And, will NW 60th Avenue, the road by the airport, be extended to the north to connect with the new NW 49th Street?

ANSWER:

Straub stated that portions of the section of NW 49th Street, west from the interstate to CR 225A, is currently in design and it is planned to be a four-lane road, but it will first be will be built as a two-lane road. Next year, the County is prepared to start constructing about a mile section of the road from 44th Avenue going west just past the rear entrance of Ocala Preserve, located on US 27.

The County does not have all the right away secured moving further west to 225A, but the process for the right of way acquisition will begin next year. Straub predicted that it would take about three years for the road to reach CR 225A.

NW 60th Avenue, also known as Airport Road, ends at US Hwy 27. The County reserved the right of away on the west side of the Ocala Preserve subdivision, but the County does not have a road planned. However, the County does recognize that extending NW 60th Avenue north to NW 49th Street make for a good potential connector and that’s why they reserved the right of way, Straub stated.

Question from Linda Bammann of Laughing Horse Farm

QUESTION:

There are 2 large projects approved on Highway 318, the Sunny Oaks development and the WEC Jockey Club.

The Board of County Commission’s procedure for approving both these projects has been challenged. How long do you project it will be before these challenges will be resolved?  Days, months or years?

ANSWER:

For the Sunny Oaks project, the judges need to review the challenge that was filed. The County has not been asked to provide a response to that challenge yet.

For the WEC Jockey Club, which is a different type of challenge, an administrative hearing date has been set for early next year and the County will participate in the hearing.

The length of time before the challenges are resolved could be months or it could take longer.

 “We know we’re into months,” she said. “Neither project is able to move forward with construction without having both of these items buttoned up, so while we will continue to work with them through the permitting process. We would not be able to issue any permits until they’ve resolved both of those challenges that are out there.”

SPECIFIC ROAD PROJECTS

 

SE Emerald Road to be Extended:

 

SE Emerald Road already exists inside Silver Spring Shores and CR 464 is the only major corridor that runs through that community. SE Emerald Road is already over capacity. The County is extending Emerald Road further to the west to connect with SE 92nd Loop, which is a four-lane road that goes from the Baseline area and to the Belleview area.

 

Marion Oaks Manor to be Extended with Flyover I-75:

 

 

Marion Oaks Manor will be four-laned and will be extended east to a flyover over I-75 to allow traffic to travel to the east side of the County.

 

County Road 484 to be Four-Laned to SR 200:

 

 

Part of CR 484 is four lanes from I-75 to just past the Florida Crossroads Commerce Park. The Dollar Tree distribution facility recently built a facility there and several other facilities also plan to build in the Commerce Park, so there is a need to four-lane CR 484 to SR 200.

 

SW 49th Avenue Goals:

 

  • North -South Connector
  • Relief to I-75
  • Relief to CR 484
  • Relief to SR 200

 

A portion of SW 49 exists in the south end of the County. The road will be extended to connect to the Marion Oaks Manor flyover road and go through the Commerce Park and through the greenway pass at the Cross Florida Greenway. The county has completed the four-lane segment from SW 95th Street (near Liberty Middle School) north to SW 66th Street. Another road segment will connect to SW 42nd Street near the backside of the Heath Brook Mall. The City of Ocala will continue 42nd Street north.

 

 

SW 80th/70th Avenue Corridor:

 

 

This road improvement project is an 11-mile north and south corridor that starts north of SR 200 and ends at about one-half mile north of US Hwy 27 on CR 225A. The road will be four-laned in multiple phases. The intersections at US Hwy 27 and SR 40 will be improved with turn lanes. In addition, two existing east-west roads, SW 38th Street near the new Calesa Township subdivision, and SW 80th Street, will also be widened to four lanes. SW 80th Street touches SW 80th Avenue and SR 200.

 

 

Northwest 49th/35th Street Corridor: New Four Lane East-West Connector:

 

 

This is a proposed four-lane road that will stretch from CR 225A from just north of US Hwy 27 west through the new I-75 interchange at NW 49th Street to the 489 Commerce Park on the east side of the interstate, then become NW 35th Street and continue east to end near Baseline Road and SR 40 area in Silver Springs. This road will relieve traffic on SR 40 and CR 326.

The new interchange at NW 49th Street has been a 15-to-20-year project in the works for Marion County, said Straub. Construction was initially planned for the 2040s, but due to the urgent need to provide relief to I-75, Marion County worked with DOT and became a funding partner. The new interchange is projected to begin construction in early 2025 and the total cost is nearly $80 million.

 

 

“This is been a great partnership with FDOT and we’re very proud of it,” she said. “We think that this is extremely important for our community. This interchange has been envisioned for quite a while.”

 

CR 318 and I-75:

 

The County does not have any active road improvement projects at this intersection. However, two large developments, Sunny Oaks and the WEC Jockey Club, were recently approved at the land use level. The County has not received any additional submittals beyond the request to change the land-use and zoning to allow for future development.

Straub stated that the County conducted a planning level study to determine the cost of the traffic improvements as if both projects had moved forward with a one-hundred percent build-out. The study determined that the cost was about $61 million, but due to proportionate share, the developers would be responsible for ninety-eight percent of the road improvement costs.

 

 

“All of these projects still need that detailed study for the traffic,” she said. “However, we don’t know that those projects will come in at the same time, so one project could come in before the other and then the impacts would shift and the timing of those improvement needs would shift.”

For example, with a full build out, CR 318 would need to be widened from two lanes to four lanes and also improvements to the intersection at CR 225A and CR 318 would be required.

Watch the entire Summit presentation online:

Questions About Conservation?

Contact Busy Shires, our Director of Conservation Strategies, by email or by phone 386-853-4437.

It is the vision and mission of Horse Farms Forever to inspire conservation of horse farms through education, awareness and idea exchange so as to preserve natural pasture land focusing on horses and their habitats, to protect soil and water on which they depend, and minimize land use conflicts
in Marion County, Florida.

We are watchful of government and others to preserve and protect horse farms and farmland for future generations - especially in the Farmland Preservation Area. We are neither anti-growth nor anti-development; we encourage urban growth to remain inside the Urban Growth Boundary.

Horse Farms Forever® is a Florida not-for-profit corporation registered with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services as a charitable organization and approved as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) corporation by the Internal Revenue Service. Horse Farms Forever® does not have a political mission. Our status as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization does not allow us to participate or intervene in political activities. The organization will neither advocate on behalf of political candidates nor advocate for the passage of legislation.

 

Where The Rubber Meets The Road: A Conversation About Transportation

Where The Rubber Meets The Road: A Conversation About Transportation

Over 550 people experienced the Third Annual Conversation Summit held on Monday, November 14, 2022, with 250 attending live and 300 watching the live stream and video replay. The goal of the Summit was to be a catalyst for conversations about transportation and road improvement projects on our horse farms and equine industry.
Photo by Sean Dowie.

Marion County joined together at Ocala Breeder’s Sales for an important Conversation About Conservation on Monday, November 14. The subject at hand was how traffic and transportation will impact conservation and the preservation of our horse farms as growth continues. We were fortunate to have Jared Perdue, Secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and Tracy Straub, Assistant Marion County Administrator available to share detailed information about Florida’s transportation approach and goals, and specific road improvement projects.

Secretary Perdue gave an update on the improvements to I-75 and Northern Turnpike Extension project, which will be revitalized in one to two years, but he also emphasized FDOT’s new emphasis to embrace a community’s unique heritage and culture to protect the very things that make that community unique, while at the same time improving road safety and efficiency.

“I love the idea of protecting horse farms. I love horses and owned them myself,” he said. “I love Marion County and rural Florida. I was born and raised there, so it’s really important to me.”

At the beginning of his talk, Secretary Perdue said that the core mission is to provide safe and efficient transportation for the citizens of Florida, and to support the supply chain of goods and services. This is a challenge as Florida’s population continues to grow. Transportation projects are planned for three-percent annual population growth. In some Florida counties, growth is twenty-percent or more annually and not predicted to slow down. At that level of expansion, it is impossible for transportation systems, which are planned on a 15-year timeline, to keep up. The State must plan strategically to head off potential problems as the future unfolds while keeping an eye on conservation of natural resources and meeting the needs of varied communities.

“This is one of the challenges with transportation is – how do you provide necessary transportation, but still protect and conserve what makes Florida special,” said Secretary Perdue.

Many of our members will remember the proposed Coastal Connector toll road in 2018 and how thankful the community is that this toll road has been officially taken off of the table, but the growth challenges that we face as a community will continue and it will take a cooperative effort from both sides of the table to maintain this balance between growth and conservation.

Administrator Tracy Straub, from Marion County, provided important detail on the major road projects planned or taking place around the County. Her substantive presentation not only showed the plans and timelines, but also explained why these projects were conceived and how they will help alleviate traffic congestion.

We will be taking a deeper dive into the material presented by both Perdue and Straub in a subsequent blog. In the meantime, we encourage you to watch the entire Summit Program online.

On The Northern Turnpike Connector:

“We know we need to do something. We want that something to preserve your farmland, to fit the growth patterns that are occurring. We want that something to continue to provide the needed transportation while embracing and maintaining the character of your community.”

Jared Perdue

Secretary, Florida Department of Transportation

I was asked to talk about what was going on for transportation projects at County Road 318. I want you to know that the County has nothing going on at 318 – nothing. Of course the regular resurfacing and guard rail maintenance is taking place, but the development projects in that area have not completed the studies required as of yet for any further planning.

Tracy Straub

Assistant Administrator, Public Works and Growth Services, Marion County

Speakers

Jared Perdue, Secretary, Florida Department of Transportation, shared his rural Florida roots and love for the land. Photo Sean Dowie.

Tracy Straub, Assistant Administrator Public Works and Growth Services is an Ocala Native and 5th generation Marion County Floridian. She has been a Professional Engineer with the County for 21 years. Photo Sean Dowie.

Secretary Perdue with Marion County Commissioner Michelle Stone. Photo Sean Dowie

“Think of these beautiful, iconic horse pastures as our ocean; and the magnificent live oak trees as our coral reefs,” said HFF President, Bernie Little – reminding us all that we are stewards of an environmental gift here in Marion County that is woven tightly to our culture and identity. Photo Sean Dowie

Director of Conservation Strategies Busy Shires explained the significance of the Horse Farms Forever Amendment to the Marion County Comprehensive Plan, which strengthens the protections for the Farmland Preservation Area. Photo Russell Crowder

The beautiful Acorn Award was presented via Zoom to John and Leslie Malone. This unique award is sculpted in Bronze by Colorado artist, Bryce Pettit. Photo Sean Dowie.

Bridlewood Farm’s General Manager, George Isaacs, accepted the Acorn Conservation Award on behalf of the Malone family, owners of Bridlewood Farm. Photo Sean Dowie

Sponsor Navroz Sanju of HDG Hotels asked Secretary Perdue about the future of self-driving cars and trucks on the interstate highways. Photo Russell Crowder

Sponsor and Director Linda Bammann asked Tracy Straub about the timeline for road improvements on Route 318 related to the Sunny Oaks and WEC Jockey Club developments. Photo Russell Crowder

Sponsor and HFF Vice President Rob Desino asked Tracy Straub about the timing for the I-75 interchange at 49th Street and improvements to 225A now under construction. Photo Russell Crowder

Kevin Sheilley, President and CEO of the Ocala Metro Chamber and Economic Partnership asked Secretary Perdue about evacuation routes during hurricanes and if the connection between the Suncoast Parkway and I-75 is needed for this purpose in light of the recent hurricane activity in the State. Photo Russell Crowder

Guests

Marion County Commissioner Craig Curry with HFF Director Chester Weber and his brother-in-law, Sam Reid. Photo Russell Crowder

Our special guests from The Peeps Foundation – a rescue for dwarf and miniature horses that recently relocated from Wellington to Ocala. Photo Russell Crowder

HFF Director Nick deMeric, with Mary Jane Hunt and Sara Fennessy. Photo Sean Dowie

Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn with HFF’s Busy Shires and one of the Peeps. Photo Russell Crowder

HFF’s Michelle Grald, with Founder/Directors Linda Bammann, Jim Cannavino and Elma Garcia Cannavino. Photo Sean Dowie

Landowner Chuck Koch with Ocala Horse Properties’ Matt Varney and Rob Desino. Photo Sean Dowie

Our special guests the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation shared their message.

Southern Heritage Developers partners Scott Schuck and Will Futch with HFF Event Planner Sadie Fitzpatrick and Ocala Horse Properties’ Niki Tripoldi. Photo Sean Dowie

HFF President Bernie Little with Ocala Metro CEP’s Tamara Fleischhaker (Chief Experience Officer) and Kevin Sheilley (President). Photo Sean Dowie

David Tillman of Tillman & Associates Engineer, with Ocala City Council member Kristen Dreyer and Marion County Commissioner, Craig Curry. Photo Sean Dowie.

Brought To You By:

Gold Sponsors

Diamondback Hospitality Group

William Kearns

Leonard & Lois Green Charitable Foundation

Live Oak Stud Ocala Marion County Florida
Live Oak Stud Ocala Marion County Florida
Misty Lane Cattle Co.
Misty Lane Cattle Co.

Cathy D. Perry Estate

Stonehall Farm

Saint Bernard Foundation

Tri-Eagle Sales Logo

Silver Sponsors

Bronze Sponsors

Florida Horse Park Logo

Marketing Partners

Always Watching

We work hard to keep you informed, and to represent our members' interests in preserving our horse farms, farmland and the unique character and culture of Marion County's 193,000 acre Farmland Preservation Area.

Join the herd. Every voice matters.

John and Leslie Malone To Receive The Acorn Conservation Award

John and Leslie Malone To Receive The Acorn Conservation Award

The Acorn Award was crafted by renowned wildlife sculptor, Bryce Pettit of Durango, Colorado.

Horse Farms Forever is honored to announce that the 2022 Acorn Conservation Award will be presented to John and Leslie Malone, Owners of Bridlewood Farm, at the upcoming Conservation Summit on November 14th at Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company.

The Acorn Conservation Award is presented by Horse Farms Forever to a Marion County landowner who has made a significant contribution to the preservation of horse farms. The Award is a one-of-a-kind bronze sculpture crafted by renowned wildlife sculptor Bryce Pettit from Durango, Colorado. The phrase “From tiny acorns, mighty oaks grow,” aptly describes how we envision the conservation movement in Marion County. A few landowners are leading the way by putting their vision into action as they protect their land. Each time, they become an example to other landowners who see the possibilities, and the movement grows. In the end, a magnificent tree has grown, with branches that spread throughout the County, and the Farmland Preservation Area is sheltered in its shade.

George Isaacs, Bridlewood Farm General Manager, Horse Farms Forever Director and newly elected President of the FTBOA, will present the Award to the Malones at the Summit this Monday. The Summit is free and open to the public. Come one, come all to honor the Malones and hear Secretary Jared Perdue of FDOT and Administrator Tracy Straub of Marion County tell us the latest about present and future road projects in Marion County.

John & Leslie Malone

 

About Bridlewood Farm and the Malones

Bridlewood Farm, a name synonymous with success at the highest levels in Thoroughbred racing, breeding and sales, encompasses more than 2,200 acres. Founded in 1976 by Arthur and Martha Appleton and owned today by John and Leslie Malone, Bridlewood Farm has represented excellence for 43 years. Under the ownership of the Appletons and the direction of General Manager George Isaacs, Bridlewood Farm was represented by more than 100 stakes winners, including Grade 1 winners like Florida Champions Jolie’s Halo, Wild Event, Forbidden Apple, Southern Image, and David Junior, along with countless equine millionaires.

Under the stewardship of the Malones since September of 2013, Bridlewood is firmly committed to the goal of becoming a prominent, nationally-recognized breeding and racing entity once again. We have quickly garnered a world-class broodmare band and have already been represented with our partners in Grade 1 winners Moonshine Memories and Tapwrit. We look forward to the future and our entire staff embraces daily the challenge to breed, raise, train, and produce quality equine athletes.

The Malones have kept the Bridlewood name–inaugurated by the late Arthur I. Appleton–both to honor its history and to create opportunity. More than 100 stakes winners have been bred and raised under the name Bridlewood, and superstar Champion Smarty Jones is among the many top horses trained at the farm. Many top stallions have stood there as well, including Silver Buck (sire of Hall of Fame champion Silver Charm), Skip Trial (sire of Hall of Fame champion Skip Away), and Stormy Atlantic (Champion Juvenile Sire of 2006). Three stallions will stand at Bridlewood in 2022: Valiant Minister, Tunwoo, and Chitu.

The Malones purchased the historic facility in Ocala, Florida in August 2013. In the short span since they purchased Bridlewood, they have procured some of the most sought-after bloodstock in the sales arena, and secured three new Graded stakes winners for their stallion barn. John Malone, Chairman of Liberty Media Corp. (whose holdings include Sirius XM and the Atlanta Braves) is the largest land owner in the United States. Leslie, a horse lover since childhood, is a well known equestrian and major supporter of the U.S. Olympic Dressage Team.

While the Malones credit their Irish heritage for their quest to acquire land, the purchase of Bridlewood hit a little closer to home.

“We’re approaching retirement age, and we were originally thinking of a retirement place,” John told The Blood-Horse. And the thrill and excitement of the Thoroughbred industry, coupled with the opportunity to preserve such a famed operation, was an opportunity too good to pass up.

“It’s a beautiful property,” John said. “To find a hill in Florida is a rarity. The place has a lot of natural beauty, and visiting the farm kind of brings out the farmer in me.”

 

Bridlewood Farm is 2,200 acres – the largest and most iconic Thoroughbred Farm in Marion County. Photos by Bridlewood Farm and Elma Garcia Cannavino.

George Isaacs, General Manager

George Isaacs grew up around cattle and horses on his grandparents’ farms in Kentucky. At the age of 18, he began his equine career at Stanley Petter’s Hurricane Hall Stud as a groom. In 1981, Isaacs went to work for the late Joe Taylor at John Gaines’ Gainesway Farm as a stallion groom and was later promoted to Asst. Stallion Manager as well as Yearling Manager.

Isaacs came to Florida in 1989 to assume the post of Stallion Manager at Arthur I. Appleton’s Bridlewood Farm. Three years later, he went to work for Allen Paulson as General Manager of his Brookside South Farm where he was involved with Breeders’ Cup winners Ajina, Cigar, Eliza, and Escena, and countless more stakes winners. Mr. Paulson was recognized as Eclipse Award-winning Breeder in 1993, as well as Eclipse Award-winning Owner in 1995-96, during Isaacs’ years with him. “To be able to work for Mr. Paulson and all those great horses and people in my early thirties seemed surreal at the time. It was an invaluable learning opportunity that helped prepare me for taking over Bridlewood.”

In 1996, Isaacs returned to Bridlewood as General Manager and has overseen the farm’s operation ever since. During that time, well over 100 Florida-bred stakes winners and 12 Grade 1 winners have been bred by the farm, including Florida Champions Jolie’s Halo, Wild Event, Forbidden Apple, Southern Image, David Junior, and Eden’s Moon. In 2001-04, Isaacs helped manage the training and racing career of Kentucky Derby & Preakness winner Smarty Jones for the Chapman family. Leading Florida stallions such as Skip Trial, Stormy Atlantic, Halo’s Image, and Put It Back have all stood at Bridlewood under Isaacs’ guard.

Summit 2022

Let’s Talk Transportation

Monday, November 14
11am to 1:30pm
Live stream begins at 12 Noon

 

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Like Our Horses, We Are Stronger Together

Like Our Horses, We Are Stronger Together

Thank you, Conservation Summit Sponsors!

 

This year’s Conservation Summit is focused on one of the most important issues facing Marion County – traffic and transportation. Horse Farms Forever is delivering on our mission to raise awareness about this key issue and how it affects horse farms and the equine industry.

The community, like a herd of horses, has come together to show their support, and the herd keeps growing! This year over 60 Sponsors have stepped up to support the Conservation Summit. Their generous support makes this event possible and helps build a broad base of support to help protect Marion County’s high quality of life.

We are honored to have Brook Ledge Horse Transportation as the Title Sponsor for the third year in a row! We also welcome several new Sponsors, including Long Creek Wines, Laura Connolly, The Duke Energy Foundation, and William Kearns.

Connolly, owner of DarkHorse, recently bought a farm in Ocala. She is a successful Grand Prix show jumper and has competed for many years in Europe and in the United States. She owns the talented gelding, Rahmannshof Upgrade, who is competed by European Champion and FEI world #1, Martin Fuchs of Switzerland.

“When I think of Ocala, I think of horse country. Horse Farms Forever’s mission to preserve that character speaks straight to my heart and passion. I couldn’t be prouder to support this incredible organization and their purpose,” said Connolly to HFF.

Like many people that moved to Ocala because of horses, William Kearns, one of Marion County’s largest commercial developers, was also drawn to the area by horses.

“While I am a developer, I chose Ocala as my home long ago because of the horses, and I certainly don’t want the farmland to be impacted in the name of progress,” stated Kearns.

Over the next 20 years, the land use decisions made by landowners and stakeholders, will determine Marion County’s future. To protect the community’s high quality of life, preservation and growth have to coexist strategically or neither succeeds. Maintaining this balance is going to take a cooperative effort from both sides of the table.

Matt Varney, Broker with Ocala Horse Properties, which is one of the top real estate agencies in Ocala, understands the importance of balancing growth with preservation.

“Ocala is incredibly unique in that it is growing on two different tracks. On one hand, we are adding diverse industries, housing and jobs – classic urban growth. But also, we have one of the largest regional farmland preservation areas in the country and a thriving equine industry dependent on those farms,” said Varney.

The purpose of the Conservation Summit is to facilitate this conversation about how to maintain a balance between growth and the preservation of what makes Marion County so special – it’s open spaces and beautiful places – maintaining this balance will take a cooperative effort from both sides of the table.

Please join us in thanking our generous Sponsors for their support of the Third Annual Conservation Summit.

 

Special Guests! The Peeps Foundation

The Peeps Foundation is an organization dedicated to rescuing, rehabbing and finding new forever homes for miniature horses in need.

Rescued dwarf minis will be there to greet you and share their stories at this year’s Summit!

Summit 2022

Let's Talk Transportation

Monday, November 14
11am to 1:30pm
Live stream begins at 12 Noon

 

Day(s)

:

Hour(s)

:

Minute(s)

:

Second(s)

Brought To You By:

Gold Sponsors

Diamondback Hospitality Group

William Kearns

Leonard & Lois Green Charitable Foundation

Live Oak Stud Ocala Marion County Florida
Live Oak Stud Ocala Marion County Florida
Misty Lane Cattle Co.
Misty Lane Cattle Co.

Cathy D. Perry Estate

Stonehall Farm

Saint Bernard Foundation

Tri-Eagle Sales Logo

Silver Sponsors

Bronze Sponsors

Florida Horse Park Logo

Marketing Partners

Special Delivery: Brook Ledge Horse Transportation’s Commitment to Conservation

Special Delivery: Brook Ledge Horse Transportation’s Commitment to Conservation

Horse Farms Forever is honored to have Brook Ledge Horse Transportation as our Title Sponsor of our Conservation Summit for the third year in a row. This year’s topic – Traffic and Transportation – is especially important for their business.

An HFF member since 2018, Brook Ledge is a family business that cares about Marion County’s horses and horse farms.

In 1955, Bill and Bob Gotwals started in the trucking business with one truck. Since that time, the family owned and operated business has grown to include Brook Ledge Inc. and XpressWay. Brook Ledge Inc. is now one of the largest Horse Transportation companies in North America. In addition to operating out of its home office in Oley, PA, Brook Ledge Inc. maintains terminals on small farms in Lexington, KY and here in Ocala. There are three generations of Gotwals currently working at Brook Ledge.

Brook Ledge and the people behind the name are committed to providing the most outstanding service possible in horse transportation. They ship famous show and racehorses to pasture companions and faithful steeds. They understand that whether your horse is a companion or a champion they are all equally important and this is why they treat each horse with the highest care and attention.

Brook Ledge’s fleet is operated by expert drivers and video monitoring of the horses while in transport, and frequent communication during the route provides peace of mind for horse owners.

Brook Ledge is incredibly proud to present their customers with lifelong horsemen and women to ship and care for their horses. Their professional drivers come from a wide range of equine backgrounds consisting of trainers, farriers, professional competitive riders, grooms, horse farm managers, who all have extensive horse experience. Most of the drivers are current or past horse owners and many are second and third generation horse people—the horse is in their blood.

One of the many ways that Brook Ledge gives back to the equine community is through their Brook Ledge Road Scholar award. Through this program, they gift round-trip travel to one full-time student who wants to take their horse to college but doesn’t have the means to get them there. This opportunity is open to any incoming or current undergraduate student under the age of 24. Interested students apply at https://www.brookledge.com/roadscholar  and the winning applicant is most heavily weighted on need and the quality of their applicant essay.

As a business, we think about how we can give back to this place and the horse farms and families that we’ve been able to serve.

We’re truly blessed to have what we have – these horse farms and that rich belt of land that grows good horses. If you’re not nurturing the whole system – land, business and the equine industry, there won’t be anything left for our kids to be a part of.

It’s so easy to think in the ‘now,’ but the ‘now is tomorrow and the next day. We want to encourage growth in Marion County but there is still plenty of land where that can strategically happen so that everyone can flourish in such a wonderful place that is Marion County.

Brian Roberts

Manager, Ocala Depot, Brook Ledge Horse Transportation

Watch the Brook Ledge Feature Video:

Always Watching

We work hard to keep you informed, and to represent our members' interests in preserving our horse farms, farmland and the unique character and culture of Marion County's 193,000 acre Farmland Preservation Area.

Join the herd. Every voice matters.

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