Funds approved to pursue Ridge Road extension

The Pasco Commission approved additional funds to pay a Washington D.C., consulting firm that is helping shepherd the Ridge Road extension project through the federal bureaucracy.

Commissioners agreed on May 19 to a reduced monthly fee of $28,500 for six months to Dawson & Associates. The contract could be extended three additional months if needed. Previously, the county had been paying $38,500 a month for the firm’s services.

Even with the reduced rates, the contract had two commissioners grumbling about the long process and costs of obtaining a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“They need to get this done in this time frame,” said Commissioner Mike Moore. “It’s going to be very difficult for me to approve additional funds. They need to be very aware that they need to get it done. We’re not going to keep these people in business for the next 20 years.”

The 8-mile extension of Ridge Road is a high priority for the county to provide an evacuation route during hurricanes or other emergencies. It also would be a new link connecting east and west Pasco.

The road currently 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. The county has been pursuing the permit for nearly 15 years.

In April, Dawson & Associates aided the county in crafting a second application to obtain a permit for the project. An earlier application was rejected because the county didn’t provide sufficient data. The new submittal package provided an analysis of 17 potential alternatives for the road’s design and cost estimates.

The least damaging road, and also the most expensive road – at about $102 million – would be four lanes and partially elevated.

At issue are about 58 acres of the 6,000-acre Serenova Preserve, set aside years ago to mitigate wetlands lost during construction of the parkway. The road extension must do the least damage to the environment in order to qualify for a permit.

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

That is money the county isn’t using, said Commissioner Kathryn Starkey.

“We’ve got other pressing needs,” she said.

The next step in the permitting process is awaiting a response from the Corps of Engineers to know if additional information will be required.

Many of the principals at Dawson & Associates formerly worked for the Corps of Engineers or other federal agencies, said Pasco County Administrator Michele Baker.

They can interpret issues of concern and take the application to the next phase, she said.

While the federal agency is not under a deadline to make a final decision, Baker said, “We have asked that they expedite this.”

Published May 27, 2015

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