Ridge Road project to open in 2020?

A portion of the Ridge Road Extension — a project Pasco County officials have wanted for 20 years — could open in time for the beginning of the 2020 school year.

The Pasco County Commission heard an update on the project during its April 8 meeting in Dade City.

The proposed Ridge Road Extension spans  7.6 miles, reaching from Moon Road to U.S. 41, in Land O’ Lakes.

Margaret Smith, the county’s engineering services director, told commissioners that county staff, and representatives from the Florida Turnpike Enterprise and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have been meeting weekly. The Turnpike is a co-applicant on the project with the county.

“We get together and talk about the issues of this project, just to make sure we keep it moving forward, just because it is an essential addition to our east-west grid in Pasco County.

“Just recently, we had the biological assessment and Fish and Wildlife both agreed that there was no issues with the permit,” Smith said.

Sam Beneck, the county’s project manager for the Ridge Road Extension, outlined a potential timeline for the project.

“We anticipate that by July 15, we’ll have completion of the Fish and Wildlife Service consultation. That represents the largest single task, in terms of time commitment, that remains on this project. It’s obviously outside of the county’s, the Turnpike’s and the Army Corps’ hands. It  really depends on the Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Beyond that, we’re looking at the start of September, an environmental assessment and statement of findings to be completed by the Army Corps. We anticipate that they will be working on that before the Fish and Wildlife consultation is done, so hopefully the consultation completes, they can complete their statement of findings and then we’re really looking forward to a Sept. 23 permit decision.

“This is based on our best available information,” Beneck said.”

Assuming that the permit is issued, the county is proposing a bidding approach that would reward early completion by $15,000 a day and charge $15,000 a day for every day the project is late. That approach will be brought back to the board for formal approval, he said.

“We’ve distilled that to three milestones,” Beneck said. “The contractor will not earn or lose their entire incentive based on one day. It will run incrementally, and we’re using that same $15,000 per day.

“Our first milestone, as an example, would be completion of four lanes of Ridge Road, between Moon Lake Road and Town Center Boulevard.

“That would provide a second entrance and exit to that (River Ridge Middle and River Ridge High) school facility. That is a major challenge in the afternoon. That would be completed by Aug. 10, 2020,” Beneck said, noting that is the first day of school.

“If they complete it on Aug. 10, then there’s zero dollars, between the contractor and the county based on that.

“For every day in advance, they’ll earn incentive and for every day after, they’ll lose that disincentive, that $15,000 a day.

“So, if they come in 13 days early, they’ll get a full $195,000 incentive; and if they’re 13 days late, they’ll be charged that disincentive,” Beneck said.

The next milestone is a two-lane opening that would allow two-way traffic between Moon Lake and the Suncoast Parkway by May 31, 2021, which would be prior to the 2021 Hurricane Season.

“This is our largest incentive, that $1.5 million,” Beneck said. “ Again, it’s not make or break on one day. If they’re a little bit late, they’ll be charged for being late, and if they’re early, they’ll start to earn that incentive.”

The third milestone is the overall completion of the project, which would be by May 31, 2022, the beginning of the 2022 Hurricane Season. Again, incentives and disincentives would be used. The maximum incentive/disincentive for this milestone would be $705,000.

Beneck told commissioners: “We started working very closely with the attorney’s office, with the purchasing office, to make sure that everything that we’re doing is defensible. Once that review is complete, we anticipate bringing the package to the board, as its own item, discuss it with you all, make sure you understand it and concur with the strategy.”

Another idea is to delegate authority to County Administrator Dan Biles, so he can sign the contract and issue the notice to proceed.

County Commissioner Mike Moore told Biles, “Dan, I like your idea of incentivizing being ahead of schedule and disincentivizing being behind schedule.”

He thinks the county should consider the same approach when it proceeds with the Interstate 75/Overpass Road interchange project.

County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey praised the effort to get the road opened in the vicinity of River Ridge Middle and River Ridge high schools.

“My kids all went to River Ridge Middle and High School. And, I can tell you, on the middle school dance, middle school prom, whatever, that traffic backs up way down Ridge Road. It takes a couple hours to get in to pick up your kid and drop them off. It’s a nightmare. So, this is going to be so wonderful for that high school and middle school.”

Starkey also wants to be sure the county pursues the opportunity to have a trailhead at the Suncoast Expressway.

“There is land there that is not part of Serenova that is land that was used by the Department of Transportation to build their borrow pits. They carved it out and then they gave it back to SWFMD (Southwest Florida Water Management District). We were told by SWFMD years ago that we could use that as a trailhead. It’s high and dry.”

Beneck told Starkey: “Yes, we are coordinating with the water management district on that, as well as a lot of other opportunities.”

Biles noted the trailhead is not part of the current set of construction documents.

Beneck said that’s correct, but the discussions are “laying the groundwork for those facilities in the future.”

Mariano praised the county’s staff for the progress it is making toward making the Ridge Road Extension a reality, singling out Biles for his contributions.

Biles told commissioners: “We’re cautiously optimistic that we’ll be moving forward on this, late this summer.”

Ridge Road Extension, projected schedule
July 15: Fish and wildlife service consultation complete
Sept. 9: Environmental assessment and findings
Sept. 23: Permit decision and construction notice to proceed
October: Construction celebration ceremony

Potential construction schedule
August 10, 2020: Completion of four lanes between Moon Lake Road and Town Center Boulevard
May 31, 2021: Two lanes between Town Center Boulevard and Interchange, and four lanes through Interchange area to end of project
May 31, 2022: Phase 1 project completion

Published April 17, 2019

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