The final segment of the Ridge Road, which is scheduled to reach U.S. 41 in Land O’ Lakes, could turn into just another stop along the road.
The board of the Pasco County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) — the county’s lead transportation planning agency — has decided to let its staff explore the possibility of extending Ridge Road over to Overpass Road in Wesley Chapel.
The study came at the suggestion of Pasco County Commission Chairman Jack Mariano who noted that work has been approved to plan an extension of Overpass Road to U.S. 301.
If that extension occurs to the east of Overpass and if the proposed link is approved to U.S. 41, then Ridge Road potentially could become another east-west road corridor across Pasco.
Mariano discussed the idea with Carl Mikyska, executive director of the Pasco MPO, and brought the issue to the board at its Feb. 9 meeting, for discussion and direction.
“Currently, state roads 54 and 52 offer east-west movements, but there’s a distance between those two roads. The concept here is to look at a mid-county, east-west connection,” Mikyska said.
Mariano told his MPO board colleagues: “The traffic relief we’ve felt from the Ridge Road extension, running from let’s call it Moon Lake to Suncoast has been great,” Mariano said.
Ridge Road is slated to reach Sunlake Boulevard in the summer and then stretch over to U.S. 41 in 2025, he said.
He encouraged his colleagues to support a closer look at extending it to Overpass Road.
“Let’s investigate it, see if it works. I think if you put that other road going across this whole county, it’s going to really help us long-term with our transportation issues,” he said.
Mariano added: “This is not a brand-new idea. When I was first elected, this was one of the things we talked about. We had to decide whether we were going to keep fighting with (U.S.) Army Corps (of Engineers) to get the Ridge Road extension, we were looking to get all of the way to (Interstate) 75.”
The decision was made at that time to get Ridge Road to U.S. 41 and then look at an additional extension, Mariano said.
“I think it’s wise to take a look at it now. Let’s get started on it and see where it takes us.”
Starkey asked about potential environmental restrictions.
Mikyska noted: “There are some wellfields in there and it’s labeled the Cypress Creek Preserve.”
Starkey added: “I don’t know what kind of restrictions are on there. I just don’t know what we would be up against if we went through there.”
Pasco County Commissioner Seth Weightman expressed words of caution.
“So, obviously this goes through the heart of my district,” he said.
“The property that is owned through here is kind of a conglomerate of Tampa Bay Water, SWFMD (Southwest Florida Water Management District) owns parcels and there’s some private entities.
“As it gets further east, there’s conservation easement with one family. A little bit further south, Quail Hollow, then it connects into the Overpass area.
“That area is such a significant area for our water supply, our water quality,” he said.
“Studying it (the road extension), is one thing. I think we really, really need to understand the impacts, if we go disturbing that because that water supplies, obviously, you know the Greater Tampa Bay area, with an essential resource,” Weightman said.
“It’s a very environmentally sensitive place. It’s a very pristine piece of nature.
“I just want that on the record as we look at this,” Weightman said.
Mariano responded: “I respect what it is. I look at the Suncoast Parkway running right through the heart of Serenova. Keep in mind, too, when we did that, there were 6,500 homes that had been built, 250 acres of commercial development, 250 more acres of other retail that was going to be put in and all of that got extinguished going through.
“I don’t know what the limitations are. I don’t exactly know all of the effects. But I will say, I think that we’ve built that Ridge Road extension, environmentally very sensitive, protected everything down below it.”
Mariano added that the extension could be a two-lane road or a four-lane road.
“We don’t know until we study, the ramifications, etc., but it’s such a critical piece of us, going east-west. I think it’s worth a look. Especially now, since the Overpass interchange has been built. That’s a $55 million product that we’ve got for infrastructure, instead of going all of the way to (U.S.) 301. I think we need to look at both sides.
Weightman responded: “I don’t disagree with looking at a road concept. My concern is once the road is there and limits are pushed, for developments and what comes along with it. I think we just need to be very measured, as we go through this process and really understand the impacts of these properties and building on them.”
Mariano: “’I’m not looking at anything but the roadway to go through.
“If we don’t look at it, we’ll never know.”
Lance Smith, who sits on the Zephyrhills City Council, told his colleagues: “I’m like Commissioner Weightman, I’m very sensitive to the land there. We can study that and we could minimize any impact to it because we don’t need sprawling development along a road, but if we need to move traffic, that’s a different issue.”
The next step will be for the Pasco MPO staff to look at the idea, as it screens projects that would be conducted with the long-range transportation plan.
That list is due in December of 2024, Mikyska said.
“So the suggestion would be, that as we put in projects to the long-range plan, we take them to a higher-level screening,” Mikyska said.
That screening will provide “a better sense of what exactly we would be facing, in terms of any challenges, such as you’re identifying here.
“I think that would give you a clearer picture of what this facility may offer for challenges and opportunities, and it would allow you to have a more informed choice as we look at going forward or not going forward,” Mikyska said.
Published March 01, 2023