More details sought in State Road 54/56 design debate

Task force members want more information before reaching conclusions on future road designs aimed at easing traffic congestion along the State Road 54 and State Road 56 corridor.

The task force met Aug. 24 in a public meeting to review 11 road alternatives, and a no build option.

Task force members are expected to whittle their road list to three or four plus the no build option.

A task force is studying solutions to traffic congestion on State Road 54 and State Road 56, including the busy intersection at U.S. 41.
(File)

Just one more meeting, in October, had been planned, but task force members asked for a workshop in addition to the final meeting to get more details on the road selections. That workshop will be an open session, but no public comment will be taken.

That workshop likely will be scheduled in October.

The entire study is being done in phases, with additional meetings planned for 2018.

The task force is studying the corridor from Bruce B. Downs Boulevard on the east to U.S. 19 on the west.

The current focus is on two intersections: Little Road and State Road 54 in New Port Richey, and U.S. 41 and State Road 54 in Land O’ Lakes.

The Aug. 24 meeting laid out the complexity of the issue.

Task force members are studying five elevated toll lanes, five at-grade level road designs, and a no build option.

Opinions are divided.

“I have been an absolute no build,” said Christie Zimmer, who is a member of the citizens’ advisory board for the county’s Metropolitan Planning Organization. But, looking at the possibilities, she added, “Something needs to happen. We have to come up with an alternative.”

Chris Saenz said the task force lacked the diversity to reflect the larger Pasco County community. He suggested a referendum could help settle the matter.

Maintenance and operating costs also will drive up already burgeoning costs of construction and right-of-way purchases, Saenz said.

One at-grade level option, with express bus lanes, could potentially cost nearly $1 billion to build.

“The cost of ownership is going to take ya’ll to the poor house,” he said. “Let’s not lose sight of that,” Saenz said.

Saenz represents Pasco Fiasco, a grassroots group that fought against a 2014 proposal to build a privately funded 33-mile express toll road over the top of State Road 56 and State Road 54. That project was scrapped.

Residents also have strongly opposed a more recent proposal from Florida Department of Transportation to build a fly-over, with toll lanes —  to ease traffic at the intersection of State Road 54 and U.S. 41.

That proposal is among the alternatives on task force members’ list, but state transportation officials put the project on hold.

That decision is part of the reason why two task forces were formed in 2015 to come up with a future transportation vision for the corridor.

The current task force, with some members from the previous two groups, began meeting in early 2016.

Bill Ball, a principal at Tindale Oliver, acknowledged that there is some suspicion in the community that an elevated toll road is being pushed.

But, he noted that every type of design, including elevated toll lanes, at ground level and no build, is represented in the list of options.

The task force’s purpose is to gather public input, and consider the range of choices, said David Goldstein, Pasco’s chief assistant county attorney.

“If it’s not going to be elevated toll road, what do ya’ll want?” he said.

As an aid in the decision-making, task force members received individual estimates on construction costs, right–of-way purchases and maintenance costs. They also received guidance on other issues, including environmental impacts, wait times at traffic signals, and numbers of businesses that could be relocated.

Still, members wanted more.

For instance, questions were raised about who would collect tolls, and for how long, if an elevated option was selected.

“That can be part of the recommendations,” Zimmer said.

Concerns also were raised about whether any alternatives would improve the level of service along the corridor.

The answer appeared to be that not much would change, based on the growth anticipated in Pasco. Roads and intersections that are ranked now at F, for failed, could still have failing grades.

“F does not solve the problem,” said Rich Dutter, who is one of three at-large citizens on the task force.

For information on the task force and its work, visit Vision54-56.com.

Published September 6, 2017

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