Shaping a vision for transportation in Pasco

The next phase in a transportation vision for Tampa Bay took a local turn into Pasco County.

More than 30 residents from Pasco and Hernando counties met on Aug. 3 as a “working group” tasked with recommending future transportation decisions. The Florida Department of Transportation hosted the event at the Myrtle Lake Baptist Church in Land O’ Lakes.

Ed McKinney, planning and environmental administrator for the Florida Department of Transportation’s District 7 office, in Tampa, met with more than 30 residents from Pasco and Hernando counties to talk about Tampa Bay Next. The initiative seeks to develop a transportation plan for Interstate 275. (Richard Riley)

The Community Working Group session was open to the public. It is one in a series of meetings in the Tampa Bay region as part of the Tampa Bay Next initiative. A regional meeting in Tampa kicked off the new initiative in May.

There are six working groups in total, representing geographic areas of the region.

Tampa Bay Next replaces the controversial Tampa Bay Express project that would have built new toll and express lanes along about 90 miles of Interstate 275, from Manatee County to Pasco County.

One segment of the project remains.

The state transportation department plans to build a replacement bridge for the Howard Franklin bridge, which links Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

That bridge replacement will include four multipurpose lanes and two express lanes.

But, the state roads department wants public input during the next two years for a new road project on I-275. The goal is to have plans ready by 2019.

Based on reactions to Tampa Bay Express, residents are tired of focusing only on car-driven road projects, said Ed McKinney, planning and environmental administrator for FDOT’s District 7 office, in Tampa.

New Port Richey resident Kelly Miller talks about priorities for Tampa Bay Next. Miller participated on one of five teams that held break-out sessions to come up with recommendations on transportation needs along Interstate 275, and in Pasco County.

Tampa Bay Next is meant to start conversations.

“We’re not going to show you any projects,” McKinney said. “We’re not going to show you any plans…We hear over and over we need to be thinking differently. People who say that are absolutely right,” he said.

Some of the trouble spots already identified in Pasco include the State Road 56 interchange on Interstate 75, the east/west corridor of State Road 54 and State Road 56, the intersection of State Road 54 and U.S. 41, and the lack of transit options.

At the working group sessions, people divided into five teams that prioritized transportation needs. They also made organizational decisions for future meetings.

As a group, they voted on priorities, based on a compiled list of recommendations from every team.

Top priorities included:

  • Adding light rail, possibly on U.S. 301 and the State Road 56 extension, and more bus service to destinations and high traffic areas
  • Converting CSX rail lines for passenger service
  • Providing Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, to serve the area

The session also produced a longer list of traffic problems people want addressed.

Requests and complaints included:

  • I-75 and State Road 56 – fix it
  • I-75 and Overpass Road – do it
  • State Road 54 and U.S. 41 intersection – fix it
  • Put multi-use trail on one side of State Road 56 extension and let it meander
  • More park and ride facilities
  • Extend Tower Road to State Road 589 and widen U.S. 41 – Yay Bexley!
  • Most of east Pasco is shoved onto I-75
  • Too many (development) entitlements on State Road 54
  • Plan for more recreational and bicycle trails

Once priorities were decided, Land O’ Lakes resident Jack George posed a question during public comment.

“What is the end game here? What is the objective?” he said. “I haven’t heard that tonight and, without a goal, I don’t know how to get there.”

McKinney said the state department of transportation planned a series of video “primers” to provide information on a broad range of topics, including how projects get funded. The primers hopefully will educate people on issues such as how projects are developed and funded, and allow for “longer conversations.”

The videos will be posted online, McKinney said.

David West, left, and Judy Geiger discuss a transportation vision for Interstate 275, and Pasco County, at a public meeting hosted by the Florida Department of Transportation.

Tampa Bay Next isn’t the only transportation initiative in Pasco.

Kris Hughes, the county’s planning and development director, offered perspective on some ongoing efforts.

For example, vision planning for State Road 54 and State Road 56 is entering a second phase, with a public meeting on Aug. 24 at 5:30 p.m., at the Pasco Utilities Administration Building, off U.S. 41.

The county is partnering in that effort, while also completing a separate planning study in the area.

Hughes also noted that new technology, including driverless cars, will be part of new development in the Connected City corridor in northeast Pasco.

“This is a very complex, very intricate system of efforts,” Hughes said.

Published August 9, 2017

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