New Suncoast Parkway projects are being planned

Projects aimed at improving traffic flow on the Suncoast Parkway are included in the Florida Turnpike Enterprise’s tentative work program.

Those projects call for adding lanes at the parkway’s intersection with State Road 54, and for connecting the parkway with Ridge Road and with Tower Road.

Carol Scott, of the Florida Turnpike Enterprise, highlighted those proposed projects at the Pasco County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) board meeting on Oct. 10, at the Historic Pasco County Courthouse in Dade City.

The Suncoast Parkway intersecting with State Road 54, as seen here, may see additional lanes to help ease traffic flow. There also are plans to intersect Ridge Road and Tower Road with the Suncoast Parkway. (Brian Fernandes)

She talked about the tentative work program for fiscal years 2021 to 2025.

“We’re going to make interchange improvements to the Suncoast Parkway and the (State Road) 54 interchange,” Scott said, of the first project.

The design phase would be funded for 2021, while construction would be funded for 2022.

The proposed project would add an extra deceleration lane on the Suncoast Parkway for motorists heading northbound to State Road 54.

It also would include additional right turn and left turn lanes when exiting onto State Road 54.

Scott also said that the current toll booth on the Suncoast Parkway eventually would be replaced with an electric one.

However, Pasco County Commissioners Mike Moore and Kathryn Starkey, who sit on the MPO board, addressed the issue of congestion on State Road 54.

Motorists have expressed concerns about vehicles heading eastbound on State Road 54 stacking up before merging onto the Suncoast Parkway interchange, Moore said.

Starkey went on to state that, “We need longer turn lanes. Going on (State Road) 54 heading east in the morning, is a three- or four-light cycle wait.”

But, Starkey expressed optimism that the future Ridge Road extension, intersecting with the Suncoast Parkway, would help alleviate State Road 54 congestion.

Scott noted that there are plans to lengthen the acceleration lane turning off the state road onto the Suncoast Parkway – heading southbound.

Scott also said: “I believe there [is] also some developer-funded project in that area on (State Road) 54, to add some turn lanes in the future.”

The second project addresses Ridge Road intersecting with the Suncoast Parkway.

The Florida Turnpike Enterprise is working in conjunction with Pasco County on this initiative.

“We’re funding the interchange and we’re providing some technical assistance to the county,” Scott said.

That project is in the design phase and construction may begin in early 2020.

As of Oct. 25, a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has not been granted. This would allow the extension of Ridge Road from Moon Lake Road to the Suncoast Parkway.

Justin Hannah is a project manager for AECOM, which works with the county’s MPO.

The consulting firm had done a study to look at the Suncoast Parkway interchange projects, forecasting their impacts up to 2045.

“As a part of the study, we ended up analyzing potential interchanges,” the project manager told the board.

One of those is the connection of Tower Road, heading west to cross the Suncoast Parkway.

A Tower Road interchange would see an estimated 32% traffic diversion from the State Road 54 interchange, Hannah said.

Three alternatives are being considered for the Tower Road interchange. They are:

  • A tight diamond interchange: This would have closely-spaced and signalized intersections where the ramps would meet with the crossing road. The estimated cost would be $108.5 million.
  • A single point urban interchange: A signalized light would be placed at the center of the intersection of Suncoast Parkway and Tower Road, guiding traffic on and off ramps. The estimated cost would be $27.5 million. It also would have an approximately 3,700-foot space from the State Road 54 ramps to the south.
  • A partial clover leaf interchange: The Suncoast Parkway’s left-turn and right-turn ramps would merge with Tower Road heading upward in opposite directions, respectively. The ramps on either side, would form a loop on the north end of Tower Road before connecting again with the road. This would resemble an “M” shape. The estimated cost would be over $59 million. However, it would have a longer distance from the State Road 54 ramps.

Hannah said the great distance would be beneficial.

“The more distance and the more space we can get between the interchanges, the better the operations are, and the safer it is,” he pointed out.

Currently, the most preferred alternative is the partial clover leaf interchange, Hannah said.

There is one connection with the parkway that doesn’t seem to need long-term improvements, Hannah said.

“When we examined the State Road 52 interchange, the operations here were operating pretty well. We expect the existing interchange to handle future traffic demand through the year 2045,” Hannah said.

In addition to improvements to help motorists, Commissioner Starkey called for improvements to help bicyclists and pedestrians.

“There is no way for the cyclists to get from one side of the Suncoast (Parkway) to the other,” she said. “We just have to find a solution for that.”

Starkey suggested a flyover path where pedestrians and bicyclists would not need to contend with traffic.

Jensen Hackett of the Florida Department of Transportation briefly took to the podium, noting that the transportation department would look into any potential routes.

The Penny for Pasco program would provide funding toward a pedestrian-bicycle flyover at the Suncoast Parkway.

Published October 30, 2019

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