Anyone who has spent any time in Central Pasco is all-too-familiar with the frequent traffic backups at State Road 54 and U.S. 41.
The intersection marks the coming together of two major roads.
State Road 54 carries east-west traffic through Pasco County and U.S. 41 is a north-south thoroughfare.
The roads get congested — forcing motorists to frequently wait through multiple light cycles before they can get through the U.S. 41/State Road 54 intersection.
The traffic quagmire has been a source of irritation for commuters for years, and the District 7 office of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has been studying potential solutions.
At the Pasco County Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Oct. 12 meeting, Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey asked for an update on what’s being done to address the issue.
Brian Hunter, an FDOT transportation planning manager, told Starkey: “So, we’re still in the evaluation process, figuring out what the final configuration of that is going to be.”
Starkey responded: “Why are we evaluating for years? Why aren’t we moving to action?”
Hunter replied: “There are a lot of environmental concerns that we have to look at, make sure we’re accommodating.”
The state transportation agency planning manager also noted that Pasco’s significant growth in the past couple of years has caused FDOT to take a closer look to be doubly sure that whatever it does, it will be the right solution.
“We don’t want to propose something that in five years, we look at it and say, ‘There were this many extra residents that came into the area. So, we’re just making sure. We’re going back through and reevaluating and making sure we’ve incorporated all of the growth.
“I don’t think any of us could have seen three years ago, when we started really looking at it, the growth that has happened here in Pasco County. It’s been immense in the last couple of years.
“When we go back to our office down U.S. 301 and turn on (State Road) 54, you can see all of those houses that are going to be popping up, and when we came off of (State Road) 52, off the interstate.
“We’re just making sure that we’ve got the appropriate solution out there.
“Because once we do it once, it’s going to be a really long time before we go back and make it better,” Hunter said.
Starkey responded that once the evaluation is done, she hopes there will be fast action.
“I hope we do get moving on something,” she said.
The county board member also alerted her colleagues on the Pasco MPO board that there’s no time to waste on making improvements to Tower Road.
A recent cooking oil spill on State Road 54, which closed down the state highway between Gunn Highway and the Suncoast Parkway, underscored the need.
A valve broke spilling cooking oil on State Road 54, she said.
“(There were) cars slipping and colliding into each other,” Starkey said, forcing the State Road 54 closure.
“That is the only east-west road we have. We have one road. We are doing a study now on Tower (Road), which we’re going to call Rangeland,” she said.
The shutdown of State Road 54 immediately “escalated” the importance of improving Tower Road, in Starkey’s view.
She said Tower Road currently goes from the edge of Starkey Ranch, but FDOT is studying an on-ramp onto the Suncoast Parkway.
“And, I hope we do that,” she said. It would create another option for east-west traffic other than heading south into Pinellas County or Hillsborough County, to get around.
On another issue, Dade City Commissioner Scott Black and Pasco County Commissioner Ron Oakley told Hunter that it’s important to keep traffic flowing in both directions at an intersection of River Road, near the U.S. 98/U.S. 301 improvement.
There were plans to eliminate the capability for left turns, Black said. That would be a hardship on the area and something must be done to preserve the ability to go both ways, he said.
Hunter said one option would be to just allow right turns, but then provide a nearby opportunity for U-turns that would accommodate trucks.
Oakley reiterated that a solution must be found.
On another item, Scott Ferry, a Pasco MPO planner, briefed the board on the status of an update to the 2050 transportation plan.
He said that Kimley-Horn, general consultant to the Pasco MPO, has been assigned the job of developing the 2050 socioeconomic forecast data for the plan.
That task aims to establish accurate base year population, dwelling units, employment, hotel/motel units and school enrollment data, and then to use that data as well as future land use data to develop a reliable county socioeconomic forecast for 2040 and 2050, Ferry said.
That data “will be incorporated into the regional travel demand model, which will be used to enable us to forecast future transportation needs in the county,” Ferry said.
The county transportation planning agency also assigned Kimley-Horn to develop the public involvement plan for developing the 2050 transportation plan.
Kimley-Horn’s plan will guide public involvement activities, including public workshops, meetings with Pasco MPO committees, key stakeholders and the board.
“The schedule for the completion of the plan is on a very accelerated schedule,” Ferry said, noting the work is being done on an eight-month timeline, rather than the usual 18-month process.
The deadline for adoption is Dec. 11, 2024, he said.
The Pasco MPO is made up of elected leaders from Pasco County, Dade City, New Port Richey, Port Richey and Zephyrhills. It is the lead transportation planning agency for Pasco County.
Published October 25, 2023