County marks Ridge Road extension milestone

It was a historic day in Pasco County, as a groundbreaking ceremony was held to celebrate the upcoming construction of the Ridge Road extension.

The new stretch of road will give motorists another east-west option through Pasco County, and will provide an additional evacuation route in the event of a disaster.

From left: Sam Beneck, project manager for the extension, is joined by Pasco County Administrator Dan Biles, Pasco County Commissioners Mike Wells, Jack Mariano, Ron Oakley and Mike Moore; U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey and Margaret Smith of Pasco County Engineering Services. The Jan. 13 groundbreaking ceremony was the first step in the construction of a project that’s been a county goal for more than 20 years. (Brian Fernandes)

The groundbreaking, held Jan. 13, followed a permit issued in December by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

County officials have been pushing for the project for more than two decades. When the extension is completed, motorists will have another east-west way to get across the county, in addition to State Road 52 and State Road 54.

The ceremony, which drew numerous dignitaries, took place at the end of Town Center Road. That’s where Ridge Road will extend, heading east.

Pasco County Commission Chairman Mike Moore, of District 2, kicked off the ceremony, with a few remarks. He was joined at the ceremony with his colleagues on the commission: Ron Oakley, Jack Mariano, Kathryn Starkey and Mike Wells.

“It’s another great day in Pasco County,” Moore said. “The Ridge Road extension is finally happening, providing a much needed east-west route through the heart of Pasco County for our citizens, and insuring another critical emergency evacuation route.”

Currently, Ridge Road runs between Moon Lake Road to the north, and DeCubellis Road to the south, in New Port Richey.

The roughly 9-mile extension ultimately will link the road to U.S. 41, in Land O’ Lakes.

Construction is being broken into two phases.

The new Ridge Road intersections and their anticipated completion dates go as follows:

Phase 1

  • From Moon Lake Road/DeCubellis Road to Town Center Road, with completion scheduled for 2020
  • From Town Center Road to Suncoast Parkway, with completion scheduled for 2021
  • Extension widened from two lanes to four lanes to Suncoast Parkway, with completion scheduled for 2022

Phase 2

  • Four lanes from Suncoast Parkway to Sunlake Boulevard, with completion scheduled for 2022
  • Four lanes from Sunlake Boulevard to U.S. 41, with completion scheduled for 2025

The first phase will cost an estimated $90 million.

The second phase has not been funded.

The project also has received congressional support.

Pasco County Commission Vice Chairman Mike Wells was one of the five county commissioners present for the groundbreaking of the Ridge Road extension on Jan. 13. Wells represents District 4, which includes a portion of the new extension’s path.

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis of Florida’s 12th congressional district has been an advocate for Ridge Road’s extension. He has urged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for several years to issue a permit for the project.

At the groundbreaking, Bilirakis said: “This is a team effort, and it is a big deal. We’re thankful this morning to celebrate a vision that began many years ago.”

Pasco County Administrator Dan Biles also was instrumental in helping the project move forward.

He signed off on the permit, the day the county received it.

“As Ridge Road is built, it actually reduces the traffic on [State Roads] 54 and 52, and right around there by 10%,” Biles said.

Commissioner Mariano, who represents District 5, said: “The future’s bright for Pasco County. This is a major accomplishment for a community that stuck together knowing how important it was, and this is something we should be very, very proud of.”

Mariano also called attention to safety concerns that will be addressed as a result of the new corridor.

“One of the major reasons we elevated it (Ridge Road), was to make it safer so it can be used during a hurricane event as well,” he said.

Mariano made reference to Tropical Storm Debby, which caused State Road 54 to shut down in 2012.

“This right here is going to be for the safety of our citizens on the west side of this county,” added Commissioner Ron Oakley, of District 1.

County officials said the elevation also significantly reduces impacts to the wetlands of the Serenova Tract of Starkey Wilderness Preserve. They estimate that reduction in impacts to be as high as 83%.

The project includes 16 bridges, curbs, guardrails and fencing.

Impacts to wildlife are being taken into consideration as well.

The end of Town Center Road has been cleared of brush, and is now being surveyed for gopher tortoises in the vicinity, said Sam Beneck, the project manager.

Any tortoises found in the construction area will be relocated to another site, Beneck said.

While the county has been pushing for the project for decades, environmentalists have been opposed to it.

The opponents, including the Sierra Club Florida Conservation, have said the new measures do not go far enough in protecting the Preserve or wildlife.

Commissioner Kathryn Starkey, who represents District 3, said the extension will provide another alternative for those going to River Ridge High School and River Ridge Middle, which are located along Town Center Road.

That will reduce congestion and improve safety, Starkey said, noting, “it was never intended” for both schools to have only one entrance.

“Not only is this a very important hurricane evacuation route, but it’s also very important for the well-being of the students and the faculty, and all this neighborhood of the River Ridge complex,” Starkey said.

“The Ridge Road extension will have a lasting impact that extends far beyond the community surrounding this site,” said Commission Vice Chairman Mike Wells, of District 4.

After remarks concluded, officials donned hard hats and grabbed shovels to take part in a ceremonial groundbreaking pose.

Ridge Road’s extension to Town Center Road is expected to begin in coming weeks, with construction of that portion expected to be completed by this fall.

Published January 22, 2020

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