A project to address congestion near downtown Zephyrhills had been ranked fourth on the proposed Pasco County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) project priority list.
But it dropped to eighth place on the list after a discussion during the MPO board’s May meeting.
That action drew a response from the City of Zephyrhills during the MPO board’s meeting on June 8.
Todd Vande Berg, planning director for the City of Zephyrhills, asked the board to reconsider its decision and restore the priority list to its original order.
“So, we heard there was some discussion about flipping the 301 rankings and placing some higher priority on the 301 project, south of town, down to 56,” Vande Berg said, during the public comment portion of the board meeting.
“The city has some concerns about this and we wanted to share some of those concerns.
“Not only has the project through town, through Zephyrhills, been on the project list for a couple decades, we’ve been patiently waiting for the State Road 52 project to get done,” Vande Berg said.
“Without these major road improvements, sidewalks, roads, lighting for safety, it’s kind of stymied our efforts for development and redevelopment.
“Meanwhile, the traffic through town has significantly gotten worse through the past couple decades.
“So, city staff, our city council and businesses are not excited about the ranking being changed,” the planning director said.
He noted that Zephyrhills’ city staff, the city council, the business community and the MPO’s technical advisory committee all recommend sticking to the original order.
Vande Berg also noted that the other project is expected to be addressed relatively soon.
“While there are traffic tie-ups at U.S.301 and State Road 56 during peak hours, Zephyrhills has congestion throughout the day,” he said.
Zephyrhills Councilman Lance Smith suggested the ranking order could remain the same and that other interim improvements be made to lessen congestion at State Road 56 and U.S. 301.
Smith noted the original rankings were based using a set of criteria for prioritizing projects.
“Why are we changing it?” he asked.
Pasco County Commission Chairman Jack Mariano said the Florida Department of Transportation wants to see both projects done, back-to-back.
“I think they’re both going to fly,” Mariano said.
Pasco County Commissioner Ron Oakley observed: “Zephyrhills right now has three lanes going north and three lanes going south,” he said.
But U.S. 301 has just two lanes in the area near State Road 56, creating a bottleneck.
He’d like to see State Road 56 extended across U.S. 301, down through Crystal Springs and then around toward the Zephyrhills Municipal Airport.
Besides improving the transportation network, it could address stormwater issues in the Crystal Springs area, Oakley said.
Oakley added: “I’m for both (U.S. 301 projects). I just think that bottleneck at the south needs to be opened up or it won’t keep jamming all of that traffic back up to the city.”
Justin Hall, director of transportation development for the District Seven office of the FDOT, offered assurances to Zephyrhills’ officials that FDOT is very interested in improving conditions on U.S. 301.
The Pasco County MPO is the lead transportation planning agency in Pasco County. Its board is made up of the five members of the Pasco County Commission and one elected official from the cities of New Port Richey, Port Richey, Zephyrhills and Dade City.
Published June 21, 2023