Developers detour elevated road after concerns raised

Plans to build a 33-mile elevated highway across Pasco County hit its first roadblock last week after the developer of the project reportedly asked for more time.

The Florida Department of Transportation agreed to leave open its request for other competing proposals until December, six weeks after its original deadline of Oct. 23. Wayne Middleton, a partner with International Infrastructure Partners LLC — the company that is looking to build the road — said a recent report from the Urban Land Institute, as well as a recommendation to build a managed bus line along the route, instead prompted their request for a delay.

If an elevated road like this one near downtown Tampa is ever built in Pasco County, it will take a little longer. International Infrastructure Partners, which proposed the privately funded project, has received a six-week extension from state transportation officials as it possibly rethinks its strategy. (File photo)

If an elevated road like this one near downtown Tampa is ever built in Pasco County, it will take a little longer. International Infrastructure Partners, which proposed the privately funded project, has received a six-week extension from state transportation officials as it possibly rethinks its strategy. (File photo)

“Given these reasons and the anticipated additional cost to build, IIP and its partners need more time and clarity from all parties affected as well as those parties that will benefit from our proposal,” Middleton said in a letter to the FDOT.

That delay will give other groups until Dec. 9 to submit their proposals and pay the $10,000 application fee, according to FDOT spokeswoman Kris Carson.

The Urban Land Institute has yet to provide a detailed report of its findings studying growth issues in Pasco County. However, in a presentation made to Pasco County Commissioners earlier this month, the independent growth and development analytical group did express concern about plans to build the elevated toll road.

Charles Long, a consultant from Oakland, Calif., who addressed transportation issues in the county on behalf of ULI, said the biggest problem about the elevated road proposal was the speed of which it was coming together.

“We think it would be important to step back and have a regional discussion about all the options and all the funding choices before you actually move ahead with that project,” he said. “That project is going to have very, very significant negative impacts, and that is not something you want to rush into.”

John Knott Jr., of CityCraft Ventures LLC of Charleston, S.C., who also joined in the ULI presentation, quoted what he said was an old saying in the business: “If you’re a hammer, you’re always looking for the nail.”

“If you plan for transportation, you will get more transit, and you will get more traffic,” he said. “If you get more quality of life, and look at the underlying issues and attack them, you can generally end up with multiple solutions that are generally less costly and create a high quality of life.”

IIP proposed the elevated road in June, requesting the state give up median right of way along the State Road 54/56 corridor so that such a privately funded road could be built. The developers didn’t offer cost estimates, but using the six-mile elevated portion of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway as a model from 2004, it could cost at least $70 million per mile to build, or a total price tag of $2.3 billion.

Although FDOT answered various questions about its request for proposals believed to be from various groups interested, Carson said no other bids were received by the Oct. 23 deadline. If the same happens by the December deadline, IIP could be the only private builder standing.

The road has met some opposition in the county, primarily from businesses afraid of potential customers bypassing them on an elevated road. John Hagen, president and chief executive of the Pasco Economic Development Council, however, told The Laker/Lutz News last week that the only people planning to take the road were those likely not going to stop at local businesses along the way anyway.

“The idea that you’re going to attract more business somehow as we turn the place into a parking lot is something to rethink here,” Hagen said. “A way for local businesses to get more business is to separate out the people who are not planning to stop anyway — who are just wanting to get across the county — and opening up the surface roads to local traffic.”

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