Town hall covers myriad topics

A local church was packed with more than 100 residents during a town hall meeting held by Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey, and county staff.

Those attending had a chance to get a primer on how Pasco County departments function, and to get snapshots of what’s happening across the county and in their neighborhood.

They also got a chance to speak face-to-face with county staff members on issues, including the proposed Ridge Road extension, flood prevention efforts, and the future of the State Road 54 and U.S 41 intersection.

The meeting, which lasted around three hours, was held at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, in Lutz.

County staff members gave presentations about planning and growth, stormwater, code enforcement, parks and recreation, crime prevention, capital projects and transportation.

More than 100 residents came to a town hall meeting at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, in Lutz. The meeting was hosted by Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey and Pasco County staff members. (Kathy Steele/Staff Photo)

More than 100 residents came to a town hall meeting at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, in Lutz. The meeting was hosted by Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey and Pasco County staff members.
(Kathy Steele/Staff Photo)

Residents had a chance to ask a few questions at the end of each presentation, and could meet privately with staff members, too.

“We tried to think of things that are of concern to you,” Starkey said, in her opening remarks.

Richard Gehring, the county’s strategic policy administrator, gave residents a picture of the county’s population growth.

The census pegged the county’s population at about 467,000 in 2010. Even during the recession, the county grew by about 20,000 residents a year, Gehring said.

And by 2040, the population could increase to about 905,000 countywide.

“This will be the predominant growth area,” Gehring said of central Pasco especially along the State Road 54 corridor.

Residents from Sierra Pines, in Lutz, raised concerns about flooding. Their neighborhood suffered during the summer rainfalls and they worry that enough isn’t being done to address stormwater problems.

The county has identified about $300 million in stormwater projects, but has no funding source as yet.

“That will be an issue with the county commission this year,” said Starkey. “We’re trying to figure out how to do that.”

One resident asked about completion of the Ridge Road extension.

The 8-mile long project is a high priority for the county as a link connecting east and west Pasco, and as an evacuation route in hurricanes and other emergencies.

It has been delayed for more than 15 years, as the county awaits a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Starkey said the application is the longest standing permit request in the country.

Pasco hired a consultant several months ago to help with the process.

“We’re going to try to get louder and louder, and get this squeaky wheel done,” Starkey said.

Finding a solution to the increasing traffic congestion, especially at State Road 54 and U.S. 41, is another issue that has stirred controversy.

Two volunteer task forces created by Pasco County are currently reviewing a set of road projects to improve traffic flow. The Florida Department of Transportation also is reviewing options that could include a flyover that would elevate State Road 54 over U.S. 41 and potentially set aside toll lanes.

But, a range of transportation options will be needed to deal with traffic, as growth and development proceed, said James Edwards, director of Pasco County’s Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Transit and even passenger rail along the CSX rail line that crosses U.S. 41 at State Road 54 are possibilities, he said. The rail line is a back door to the Tampa International Airport, the University of South Florida, and into Pinellas County and Clearwater, he said.

“It is a line that absolutely connects us,” he said. “It’s an underutilized asset that may come into play in the future.”

Published February 24, 2016

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