The Pasco County Metropolitan Planning Organization has decided to shuffle the order on its priority project list to take aim at congestion problems on U.S. 301, near State Road 56, a few years earlier.
That decision came during the Pasco MPO board’s meeting on May 11.
Carl Mikyska, executive director of the transportation planning organization, brought the issue to the board for information and discussion.
He noted that the intersection of U.S. 301 and State Road 56 “experiences a great deal of congestion, particularly during the morning and afternoon peaks.”
The area also is poised for significant development, the transportation planning executive added.
There are expected to be between 5,000 to 7,000 new certificates of occupancy issued in the State Road 56/U.S. 301 area by 2024, according to materials in the board’s agenda packet.
The background materials also note that the transportation model for the 2045 Long Range Transportation Plan appears to have underestimated the amount of traffic that has occurred in the area that impacts the segment of U.S. 301, from the Pasco/Hillsborough county line to Chancey Road.
There are six active developments in the area that, at build out, will contain nearly 13,000 housing units; 593,600 square feet of commercial space; 1,390,555 square feet of office space; 1,335,000 square feet of industrial space; and 630,000 square feet of retail space, the background materials say.
The widening of U.S. 301 in that area ranks as the No. 3 priority on the MPO board’s list, with right of way acquisition proposed in 2027-2028 and construction expected to occur beyond the current five-year plan.
Only two projects in Pasco ranked higher on the priority list are the intersection of U.S. 41 and State Road 54, which is No. 1, and paired one-way roads at U.S. 301 in Zephyrhills, which ranks No. 2, Mikyska said.
He also noted: “Pasco County is probably growing faster than ever anticipated. Pasco County is the fifth fastest-growing county in the nation. So, we are experiencing some very rapid growth and with that growth comes congestion.”
The bottleneck on U.S. 301 resulted from the four-lane extension of State Road 56, from Meadow Pointe Boulevard, in Wesley Chapel to U.S. 301, in Zephyrhills.
As traffic comes and goes from State Road 56 to U.S. 301, it creates maddening backups in both directions.
Pasco County Commissioner Ron Oakley called for making the U.S. 301 widening near State Road 56 the second-highest priority and dropping the paired one-ways, closer to the Zephyrhills’ core, to rank it the third-highest priority.
Widening U.S. 301 near State Road 56 will improve the flow for the entire stretch, Oakley said.
Commissioner Seth Weightman said “we can’t wait until 2028 to address this.
“I think we need to have a sense of urgency in making a decision on this,” Weightman said.
Zephyrhills City Councilman Lance Smith said there’s no denying the problem.
“Right now, the traffic backs up coming into Zephyrhills on (U.S.) 301, all of the way to the river in the evenings. “Going out in the morning, it’s 30 minutes to get through the cycle of lights. It’s a bad stretch and we know it,” he said.
On top of that, development is rampant, Smith said.
“When you look at this, it is pretty staggering to see the number of units that are going to be put in there,” he said.
Smith asked if interim steps could be taken to provide relief.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey had the same question.
Chief Assistant County Attorney David Goldstein said consultants had looked at the question and intersection improvements would not be enough.
“The volumes are just too high on this segment. You need to improve the segment,” Goldstein said. “It is not an intersection issue. The issue is when you hit (U.S.) 301, (U.S.) 301 and (State Road) 56, (and, U.S.) 301 and Chancey (Road) — they just fail,” Goldstein said.
Without shifting the priorities, this improvement would be five years or six years later than the one-way pairs near Zephyrhills’ core.
Then Smith asked: “Why do we keep entitling units on substandard roads?”
Goldstein responded: “This is the same developer that’s paying a lot of money for (the four-lane extension of) State Road 56.”
Then Smith made this point: “My fear is that I have seen us get pushed before. Every time it gets pushed, it seems to further down the list,” Smith said. “The one-way pairs get pushed and pushed and pushed.”
Oakley responded: “I think the section (of U.S. 301) south of Zephyrhills that goes to (State Road) 56 needs to be four-laned, prior to doing the one (one-way pairs) in Zephyrhills.”
The ideal case would be the projects come in together, the East Pasco commissioner added.
Oakley made a motion to switch the priorities, which was seconded by Starkey and approved by the board.
The Pasco MPO’s board is made up of elected leaders from Pasco County, Zephyrhills, Dade City, New Port Richey and Port Richey. The Pasco MPO is the lead transportation planning organization for Pasco County. The Florida Department of Transportation uses local transportation planning organizations’ priority lists when making its funding decisions and seeking other potential sources of funding.
Published May 24, 2023