Efforts are on again for Ridge Road extension

Pasco County is trying again to obtain a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build an 8-mile extension of Ridge Road.

The project is a high priority for the county to provide an additional evacuation route during hurricanes or other emergencies.

Consultants with Washington D.C.-based Dawson & Associates briefed the Pasco Commission on April 14 on its analysis of road designs requested by the Corps of Engineers, including the county’s initial proposal and 17 alternatives. The federal agency rejected a prior application based on insufficient data.

County officials expressed frustration over the agency’s lack of information regarding its requirements prior to sending in its application.

“We would do what you want, if you’d just tell us what you want,” said Georgianne Ratliff, an urban planning consultant serving as project manager on the Ridge Road extension.

The rejected application eliminated without analysis 10 alternatives that the county considered not practical to build largely due to cost. Corps officials said detailed analysis of all options had to be provided.

“They wanted a full analysis, and we have done that,” said David Barrows, senior counselor with Dawson & Associates.

At issue are about 58 acres of the 6,000-acre Serenova Preserve, set aside years ago to mitigate the loss of wetlands during construction of the parkway.

County officials must come up with an option that will do the least damage to the environment. Efforts to secure the permit have been ongoing for nearly 15 years.

Critics of the extension have said the project will open up the area to more development.

The county has determined that four of the 17 alternatives are practical options.

Costs range from about $77 million to nearly $102 million. The most expensive road project would be four lanes and would be partially elevated. Barrows said that alternative would be the least damaging to the environment.

It would impact about 23 acres of wetlands and 86 acres of upland habitat.

For several years the county’s budget has included about $42 million for the first phase of the project.

Currently the road dead-ends at Moon Lake Road in New Port Richey.

The extension would link to U.S. 41 with a connection to the Suncoast Parkway in Land O’ Lakes.

The Corps of Engineers must issue a permit based on regulations within the Clean Water Act.

Before the matter is all settled, other agencies also will weigh in. Among them are Southwest Florida Water Management District and the Environmental Protection Agency

The next step in the process is awaiting a response from the Corps of Engineers to know if additional information will be required, Barrows said. He hopes a meeting will be scheduled within two months.

While a final decision is still months away, Barrows said there is a better understanding of what has to be done.

“I congratulate you on securing the goal posts,” said Commissioner Jack Mariano. “I’m very impressed.”

Published April 22, 2015

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