Ridge Road extension gets green light

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has granted Pasco County’s permit request to allow the extension of Ridge Road.

The approval marked a major milestone in a process that’s been two decades in the making.

As it stands now, motorists use State Road 52 or State Road 54, if they want to head east or west in Pasco County. The extension of Ridge Road will give them a third option.

“It’s a really, really substantial capacity benefit to the area,” said Sam Beneck, the extension’s project manager.

This rendering gives an idea of what the newly built trail along the Ridge Road Extension will look like. (Courtesy of Pasco County)

The county also sees this corridor as a another pathway for people to travel in the event of an emergency.

Pasco County Commission Chairman Mike Moore estimates that the extended Ridge Road will carry as much as 25% of hurricane evacuation traffic, if a disaster threatens the area.

The Ridge Road Extension project is broken into two phases.

The first phase will build a new stretch of Ridge Road, which will extend from Moon Lake Road east to the Suncoast Parkway.

The second phase will continue the extension eastward, linking the Suncoast Parkway to U.S. 41.

Funding has been set in place for phase one, which is slightly over 4 miles long. That phase carries an estimated $90 million price tag.

Initially, the segment from Moon Lake Road to the Suncoast Parkway, will be built as a two-lane road. Plans call for widening it to four lanes by 2022.

The second phase, which spans over 3 miles, is not yet funded. But officials expect to begin building that phase in late 2022.

Ridge Road will be extending beyond its intersection with Moon Lake Road heading east to the Suncoast Parkway, then further to U.S. 41. The extension will be an alternative to reduce congestion on State Road 52 and State Road 54, which also offer east-west access. (File)

While the county pursues its long-awaited east-west corridor, opponents remain committed in their quest to save the Serenova Tract of the Starkey Wilderness Preserve.

Tim Martin, Sierra Club Florida Conservation Chair, said “The Serenova Starkey Preserve is one of the best remaining natural areas that we have left in rapidly, developing central Pasco (County) and it doesn’t have to be destroyed.”

Environmentalists are concerned not only about potential harm to wetlands, but also to the habitat of animals, Martin said.

Project manager Beneck noted that the Pasco County Commission approved a change order on Aug. 6 to provide additional services to the project, including the analysis of gopher tortoises in the construction.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission sets guidelines for an approved relocation site for the tortoises, Beneck added.

But Martin said that step doesn’t go far enough because there also are other animals living within the tract.

Beneck said the design of the project calls for a partial elevation of Ridge Road — with the addition of 16 bridges, curbs, guardrails and fencing.

These additions aim to diminish harm to wildlife, Beneck noted.

The measures will reduce impacts to the wetlands by nearly 83% in the Serenova Tract of Starkey Wilderness Preserve, Beneck estimated.

But Martin countered: “When you build all that fencing and guardrails and such, it now adds to the cumulative impacts.”

The Sierra Club Florida Conservation has not yet announced what its response will be now that the permit is in place.

Construction for phase one is scheduled to begin in early January, said Beneck, adding that overall construction may be completed in the 2025 – 2026 timeframe.

Commission Chairman Moore said he believes a “very large majority of the (Pasco County) citizenry” wants and needs the road.

Published January 01, 2020

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