Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey’s passion for providing more safe ways for people to get around, and to enjoy nature, is no secret.
Virtually every time a request for a rezoning comes before the county board, she wants to know how the new development will connect to others around it, and she also advocates for trails to tie in to existing ones, and/or that new multi-use paths be created within the proposed project.
But Starkey recently learned that no trail was included in the project to widen Clinton Avenue, from Curley Road to U.S. 301, and she wasn’t happy.
She brought up the topic during the Pasco Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Jan. 12 meeting.
“I want to apologize to St. Leo, San Antonio, Zephyrhills and Dade City,” Starkey said. “I did not know this was happening.”
Starkey said she thinks Tina Russo, the MPO’s planner for pedestrian and bicycle safety, also was unaware of the situation.
To make sure her MPO board colleagues understood the issue, Starkey explained: “You know, we’re widening Clinton Avenue. It’s going to become the new road State Road 52.”
When the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) builds new roads, its practice is to add a sidewalk on one side of the road and a multi-use path on the other, she said.
“Sadly after our last (county) board meeting, I drove on some of the new Clinton Avenue extension and I came down Prospect (Road). When I came down Prospect and I headed west, I noticed that there was only a sidewalk on the north side and a sidewalk on the south side.”
The multi-use trail didn’t show up until she reached Curley Road, Starkey said.
So, she began looking into it to find out why.
She discovered that someone on the county’s staff had decided not to build a trail on the road because, Starkey said, in the staffer’s opinion: “it wouldn’t connect to anything.”
Starkey said she reminded county staff that there is a trail that’s been open for years that goes from Dade City to Zephyrhills, and is planned to extend beyond that.
Russo told the MPO board: “We’re looking at ways of correcting that situation. We’ve reached out to (Florida) DOT.”
She said efforts will continue to find the best way to correct the situation, from Curley Road east to U.S. 301.
It’s still a current project, but we’ll find out the best way to correct that situation, from Curley east to (U.S.) 301.”
Starkey added: “It is super frustrating to me because it is a multimillion dollar hiccup.
“I’ve talked to our county administrator about this because this isn’t the first time we’ve messed up. This is the biggest one that I know of, in the county. In my opinion, it’s a mess-up. Others may not think so, but I think it’s a huge mess-up.
“It’s just that we are disjointed in our trails planning. We need to have someone looking at the big picture because we have the engineering department making trail decisions. We have parks and rec making trail decisions. We have MPO making some. And they’re not talking to each other.
“Tina did not know that that trail was not being constructed. And, you couldn’t tell until they laid the sidewalk.
“She didn’t know until I called her.”
Russo explained: “We saw the piece already done, basically west of Curley. In fact, we got a tour of that piece. A beautiful facility. We kind of made the assumption that the typical was the same through the whole project.”
Russo also noted that the project was approved years ago.
“Moving forward we’re going to see what we can do to correct that situation and keep these from happening again,” she said.
Pasco County Commission Chairman Jack Mariano asked: “So, the way the MPO approved it was with the trail, correct?”
Russo: “Again, that project was approved going back to (Florida) DOT back in ’18, that was before I was here for sure.”
The project is a county project, as well as a state project, Russo said.
Starkey added: “I talked to engineering. They made a conscious decision to end it at Curley.”
“That’s what bothers me,” Mariano interjected.
Justin Hall, with FDOT, said when the project was approved, it would have been as a widening realignment with sidewalks.
He confirmed that Pasco County staff made the decision not to include the trail further to the east.
But, Hall said that FDOT could commit to doing a feasibility study to see what it needs to build the trail.
“If there’s available right of way, we can make a revision,” Hall said.
“If there’s not available right of way, or if it’s spotty, it probably would be better to have them finish the sidewalk and then have them come back.
“If not, we’re leaving a gap in the sidewalk, for whatever time it takes us to acquire the right of way, so I think it would be better for us to finish the sidewalk.
But Mariano said he didn’t want the sidewalk to be poured, just to have it ripped back up.
Hall told the MPO board: “I think we can come back next meeting with what we would need for right of way. I don’t think that’s a very big lift.”
Oakley said he thinks the county can work with FDOT, and then asked Hall to look into it and come back. In the meantime, Oakley said he would talk to the county’s engineering staff.
The idea, Oakley said, is to work together.
Pasco MPO Board Chairman Lance Armstrong agreed with Starkey that the county needs to be taking a look at the big picture.
“If we’re trying to create a trail network and we have a new road that could be a vital part of the network and we missed it, we’ve got an issue.”
Starkey agreed: “And that was such an important connection for Dade City and Saint Leo and Zephyrhills.”
Smith added: “You know what, we all need to pay attention. We really need to have our eyes open.”
Adding the trail between Curley Road and U.S. 301 is one issue, Armstrong said.
“The second one is making sure it doesn’t happen in the future. That’s a totally different issue.”
“We can’t miss a connection,” Smith said.
Published January 25, 2023