Traffic is driving the state plan, but locals question the need
By Kyle LoJacono
Zephyrhills City Councilman Tim Urban knows from experience what one-way roads can do to a small city like Zephyrhills and is among those who want to see US 301 stay open to two-way traffic.
He moved to Brooksville in 1974, before US 41 was turned into a one-way street through the city in 1993.
“It shut businesses down,” Urban said of the change to 41. “It lets people drive through the town faster, but in the end it hurts the city. It also took away from the ambiance of the small town.”
Zephyrhills city manager Steve Spina did not give his own opinion, but said he is working to keep 301 two-ways because that is what the city council wants.
“Right now the FDOT has jurisdiction over the road and we’re trying to get it turned over to the city,” Spina said. “If that happens then we’d give the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) Sixth and Seventh (streets) to use for the traffic going through the city.”
Sixth and Seventh, both one-way roads, are directly next to and parallel to 301 through the city. Sixth goes south while Seventh runs north.
“We’re in a holding pattern right now while they look at our proposal,” Spina said. “FDOT said it could take up to a year from now while their engineers check the design. They are also looking at the permitting.”
Spina said he first heard of FDOT’s plan in 2001 and added the city has had the same opinion on the project since then.
Gordana Jovanovic, FDOT’s project manager for 301, said the original plans were to convert the road to one-way traffic between where it splits with SR 39 in the south to CR 54 in the north. The highway would allow people to travel north while southbound traffic would be diverted to Sixth. The plan also includes widening both 301 and Sixth to three lanes.
“The traffic is bad on 301 through the city and making it a one-way street would help with that problem,” Jovanovic said. “Sixth Street already is one-way, so it makes sense to do the same thing with 301. When we looked at the engineering, the cultural impact and the economic impact we found that it was the best plan.
“We also had numerous public meetings in the city over the last few years and the majority of people said they thought it was the best plan,” Jovanovic continued.
Jovanovic added that Sixth would be given to FDOT’s jurisdiction regardless of which plan is used. This would not affect access to Florida Hospital Zephyrhills as it is north of CR 54 where 301 would remain a two-way road.
The city council members drafted a resolution last November making their objections known to the department and have not backed off from that opinion.
“Clearly the community doesn’t want to see one-way roads through Zephyrhills,” Urban continued. “It wouldn’t benefit the community economically.
“People have approached me and said they don’t support 301 going one-way,” Urban said, “That’s even before I joined the council (in April).”
It seems Urban has an accurate read of those in the city. The Laker asked 20 Zephyrhills residents in Zephyr Park and Betmar Acres if they were for or against converting 301. Of those, 18 said they were against changing the road while two said they were not sure.
“It would make driving harder and more confusing,” said Zephyrhills resident Judy Thomas.
Thomas went on to say she always gets lost because of one-way streets when she is in larger cities like Tampa.
Neukom Groves’ packing facility has been located on 301 just north of Fifth Avenue since 2001. George Neukom III owns the groves and has lived in Zephyrhills his whole life. While he does not think his business would be affected by a possible conversion of the highway, he sees how it could hurt others.
“I’ve heard how other towns have lost business when they start putting one-way roads through them,” Neukom said. “If you’re a large enough business people can see you going either way, but the small businesses that only face one way lose half the drive-by traffic.
“I’m for improvements though,” Neukom continued. “I’m for anything that makes Zephyrhills more accessible. I’m always for growth and improvement over staying the same as long as it’s done right.”
Urban also said he supports enhancements to the road.
“Both the city manager and Mayor (Cliff) McDuffie are looking into ways to make the traffic flow better,” Urban said. “They’ve been working with FDOT on the proposal and hopefully everything works out in the best interest for our residents and businesses.”