County continues pursuit of Ridge Road Extension

Pasco County is continuing its pursuit of a project to allow the extension of Ridge Road, and Sam Beneck, the county’s project manager, gave a briefing on the status during a Dec. 12 luncheon meeting of the North Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce.

“We are currently in the design and permitting phase,” said Beneck. “We have not started any construction activities,” he told members and guests during the luncheon at the Fox Hollow Golf Club in Trinity.

At the North Tampa Bay Chamber luncheon on Dec. 12, Sam Beneck, Pasco County project manager, updates attendees on the current plans for the Ridge Road Extension. (Brian Fernandes)

The planned 9-mile project will be broken into two phases, the project manager said. Phase 1 would stretch from Moon Lake Road in New Port Richey heading east to the Suncoast Parkway. Phase 2 would run from the Suncoast Parkway to U.S. 41, in Land O’ Lakes.

The duration for the first phase is expected to be three years, but the county hopes to shorten that.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers views it as one project, and the funds for the phases will be allocated separately.

The first phase is estimated at $67.8 million. The second phase has not yet been funded.

A Suncoast Parkway interchange also is being considered. The design for that project is expected to cost $1 million, with funding from the Florida Turnpike Enterprise.

“In prior years, we have expended almost $20 million on this project,” Beneck explained. “That includes land acquisition, a fair amount of design and redesign.”

He emphasized that in working with the Corps of Engineers, the county vigorously sought the alternative that is cost efficient, while improving mobility and reducing hurricane evacuation time.

Replacing roadside slopes with walls and pedestrian rails is being considered, he said.

The project manager also said the county has been working closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reduce impacts to the environment.

Pasco County and the Corps of Engineers came to a consensus in 2017 on an approach called Modified Alternative 7 as the least environmentally damaging option. It calls for partially elevating the Ridge Road Extension.

According to a traffic analysis survey, Modified Alternative 7 would also increase traffic flow and reduce evacuation time.

Under the plan, 16 bridges would be added in sensitive areas, as well as curbs and guardrails.

Specialized fencing also will be installed in areas where animals are most likely to frequent.

The county also would provide $3.2 million in compensation for environmental impacts during Phase 1.

The county also is collaborating with Duke Energy to design a new trailhead with parking and to provide access to existing hiking trails within the Serenova Preserve.

The county expects a permit decision by the Corps of Engineers by September 2019.

While the county continues to press forward on its efforts, the project continues to meet resistance.

Two of those opponents spoke at the Pasco County Commission’s Dec. 11 meeting.

Dan Callaghan, a long-time critic of the Ridge Road Extension, said that contrary to the county’s claims, the project is being pursued to promote development, not to improve hurricane evacuation.

He said the county wants to nibble to death its preserve areas and “slash our wild places to death, by a thousand cuts.”

Clay Colson, who also opposes the Ridge Road Extension, urged commissioners to protect the county’s preserves.

“You know preserve is something that means we’re going to keep it for our future generations,” Colson said.

Instead of extending Ridge Road through the Serenova Preserve, Colson said the county should extend Connerton Boulevard to the Suncoast Parkway.

Staff writer B.C. Manion contributed to the report.

Published December 19, 2018

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