MPO keeps elevated road on county transportation plan

A group that spent months successfully fighting a privately built elevated toll road through the heart of Pasco County got a bit of a setback last week. But its members seem to be OK with it … for now.

Jason Amerson, second from left, will fight any elevated road planned to run near his home off State Road 54 in Land O’ Lakes, but won’t challenge the county’s current long-range transportation plan as long as elevated roads don’t come up as a viable option. He was one of the leaders of a local protest group, Pasco Fiasco, that included, from left, Patrick Knight, Brian Narcum and Kristine Narcum.  (File Photo)

Jason Amerson, second from left, will fight any elevated road planned to run near his home off State Road 54 in Land O’ Lakes, but won’t challenge the county’s current long-range transportation plan as long as elevated roads don’t come up as a viable option. He was one of the leaders of a local protest group, Pasco Fiasco, that included, from left, Patrick Knight, Brian Narcum and Kristine Narcum. (File Photo)

Pasco County’s 2040 Long-Range Transportation Plan is on its way to both federal and state authorities, highlighting the county’s plan for roads, transit and sidewalks over the next 25 years. And among the various needs the county’s Metropolitan Planning Organization included in that transportation plan are elevated roads along the State Road 54/56 corridor.

“We knew the (transportation plan) would still contain the elevated toll road,” said Jason Amerson, a Land O’ Lakes resident who was one of the key players in the elevated toll road protest group, Pasco Fiasco. “It’s not something we are worried about unless they start actively discussing it again at MPO meetings.”

Pasco Fiasco came together last year after some homeowners who live just off State Road 54 learned about a proposal by a private company, International Infrastructure Partners LLC, to build a 33-mile elevated toll road, stretching from U.S. 301 in Zephyrhills to U.S. 19 in New Port Richey. The company had said initially it would fund the estimated $2.2 billion project on its own, but then lost its negotiating power with the Florida Department of Transportation after it requested the state help finance it.

That killed the private project, but an elevated road option remained in the county’s transportation plan. While then Pasco County commissioner Henry Wilson Jr., vowed to help Pasco Fiasco and others against an elevated road down State Road 54 remove such projects from the plan, Wilson was defeated in an open primary election last October by Mike Wells Jr.

“It’s not a simple task getting it removed,” Amerson said. “Probably even a harder task now that Wilson is gone.”

The elevated road remains an option for the county between 2020 and 2040 along the State Road 54/56 corridor as an “alternative improvement.” That could include “premium transit improvements” like toll lanes, overpasses like those used on U.S. 19 in Pinellas County, and elevated lanes.

The elevated road stayed in the plan, but the MPO did make more than 30 other changes to the documents after two months of public hearings. The MPO conducted a 30-day comment period through Nov. 23, as well as public workshops throughout November. It concluded with a public hearing on Dec. 11 where the new transportation plan was adopted unanimously.

Many adjustments to the plan were minor, like name changes of some roads at Bexley Ranch near the Suncoast Parkway, and Mitchell Boulevard near the Little Road area.

But there also were some larger changes as well. They included:

  • Moving up the six-lane expansion of State Road 52 from Interstate 75 to Pasco Road from 2040 to 2019.
  • Delaying another 10 years to 2040 projects like Livingston Avenue from State Road 54 to Collier Parkway, Eiland Boulevard from Handcart to Dean Dairy roads, Curley Road from Wells Road to Clinton Avenue, and Lake Patience Road from Sunlake Boulevard to U.S. 41.
  • Keeping the State Road 56 expansion from Meadow Pointe to U.S. 301 two lanes instead of four by 2019, but possibly expanding it to four lanes by 2030.

That last proposal angered city leaders in Zephyrhills, who wanted four lanes leading into one of its key commercial areas, the Zephyrhills Municipal Airport. Lawmakers like new state representative and former Zephyrhills mayor Danny Burgess said they would work with the city to try and restore funding for a four-lane segment.

The MPO also made a number of changes to Tower Road, which runs primarily east to west in Pasco, just north of State Road 54. They include developer-funded improvements like a two-lane stretch from Bexley Ranch to Ballantrae Boulevard, and an expansion to a two-lane road from U.S. 41 to Ehren Cutoff by 2040, paid for by the county.

The Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Transit Administration, and the Florida Department of Transportation will now review the plan, and work with the county to help implement it.

To read the complete plan, visit Mobility2040Pasco.com.

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