Many residents and business owners were more than ecstatic when a private company decided to pull its proposal to build an elevated toll road along the State Road 54/56 corridor off the table. But the same future transportation concerns that spurred talk of such a project in the first place are still plaguing Pasco County, and four people vying for a single spot on the county commission have their own ideas on how to fix it.
Ken Littlefield, Mike Moore, Erika Remsberg and Bob Robertson — all looking to replace Pat Mulieri on the Pasco County Commission — got together for the first time Wednesday night at Keystone Church in Land O’ Lakes for a political candidate forum hosted by the Central Pasco and Trinity-Odessa chambers of commerce.
None of the three Republicans and one Democrat wanted the elevated toll road, but all agreed something needs to be done.
“There is some relief on the way,” said Moore, a Wesley Chapel businessman who actually lives in the State Road 56 corridor. “We need to be more thoughtful in our process going forward, and we need to look at our transportation engineers and get their suggestions. Then we need to go back to the people real quick and ask what their opinions are.”
The county and state already are trying to address the issue with the widening of State Road 54 between Land O’ Lakes Boulevard and the Suncoast Parkway, Moore said, as well as continued plans to expand Ridge Road. But future growth is going to require a lot of thought, and a lot of listening to the experts who know how to plan for growth.
That could mean listening to the suggestion of mass transit, something Remsberg — the lone Democrat in the race — champions.
“Certainly widening roads is an important thing to do,” she said. “We need to put in more overpasses, but I am not a fan of managed (toll) lanes. I support an increase in public transportation, because we cannot penalize (residents by charging them tolls) and then expect them to find their own options.”
Environmental concerns have held up the Ridge Road extension, as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is proceeding cautiously on the project. Littlefield, a former state legislator, said the Corps is moving too slow, and is simply impeding progress on addressing the county’s much-needed transportation improvements.
“If we expand the Tamiami Trail and an Alligator Alley across the Everglades, and the water quality there has only improved since then, then we can build the Ridge Road extension,” Littlefield said. “The widening of the (State Road) 52 corridor also has a lot of potential. That’s another option we have before we start managing lanes and charging tolls from building elevated highways.”
But the elevated toll road is not as dead as most people think, Zephyrhills financial analyst Robertson said. The private idea might have been shunned, but an elevated toll road remains on the county’s long-range transportation plan.
“We need to continue to stay diligent as it relates to that,” Roberston said. “That is something we need to be focused on, that kind of long-term vision and planning, rather than giving out building permits first and then trying to figure out where we’re going to put all the cars.”
For more on the candidate forum, check out the Aug. 6 print edition of The Laker/Lutz News.