Patrick Knight has been an active voice against the proposed elevated toll road in the State Road 54/56 corridor, and tried to pull the big guns into his fight by writing Gov. Rick Scott.
Instead, Knight’s letter was answered by Florida Department of Transportation District Seven secretary Paul Steinman, who responded to Knight point-by-point on the potential 33-mile project that would stretch from Zephyrhills to New Port Richey.
“This type of project has already been built, and is operating successfully around the country, so we are getting a good idea of what people are able or willing to pay to use them,” Steinman wrote in a letter to Knight, which was shared with members of elevated road opposition group Pasco Fiasco. “Like any good business, the company that runs this venture will study its potential customers and set reasonable prices. If they were to charge too much, they would lose money in the end.”
In his letter to Scott, Knight touched on not only the potential high cost of tolls, but other factors he and members of his opposition group fear, like sinkholes, traffic congestion, extra noise from the road, and even allowing a foreign company to participate in a road project. One of the key partners working with developer International Infrastructure Partners LLP is OHL Group of Spain.
“There will never be public support for this project,” Knight wrote. “An elevated toll road owned and operated by a foreign corporation and used only by those who can afford a very high toll is not needed.”
However, where a proposing road construction company is based is not necessarily something the FDOT considers when partnering with projects, Steinman said.
“Nothing prohibits foreign companies form competing for this type of project,” Steinman said. “Allowing more companies to compete benefits Florida by increasing competition and lowering costs for the taxpayer.”
Also, any company, foreign or domestic, would have to hire local subcontractors and engineers to build, Steinman added. And both that work and the attraction to develop in the area because of the “presence of the roadway” would create more jobs in the state.
Steinman also downplayed any potential problems with sinkholes in the county, citing recent work on Interstate 75, which he said created no sinkhole problems either on the project site, or in surrounding private property.
There was a little bit of hope for opponents of the road, however.
“We have received many similar comments from other citizens, and have asked the company proposing the project to provide other options to the original elevated concept,” Steinman said.
International Infrastructure Partners submitted its unsolicited proposal to FDOT last summer, and the decision to give the company the necessary right-of-way along the State Road 54/56 corridor to build the potential $2.2 billion project lies with the state agency.
However, FDOT officials have said in the past they would not move forward without the blessing of the Pasco County government. Two members of the commission, Henry Wilson and commission chair Jack Mariano, have publicly come out against the project.
Public meetings about the proposed project are set to begin in June and July.