There is trouble on State Road 54 and State Road 56.
Everyone can see the snarled traffic and congestion on a daily basis, and it is clear that it will only get worse with time.
“We’re obviously in a growing community in Tampa Bay,” said Jim Edwards, transportation manager for Pasco’s Metropolitan Planning Organization. “The dirt is turning in a lot of areas. We all see that.”
Unprecedented growth along this corridor is turning pastures and open fields into brick-and-mortar shops, offices, business parks and houses.
More is on the drawing board, or in the minds, of developers who see fiscal opportunities just over the horizon.
On Sept. 24, the MPO kicked off a series of public workshops with two separate volunteer task forces that will serve as advisory boards to the MPO. The focus is on improvements on State Road 54 and State Road 56 corridor from U.S. 19 to Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.
The recommendations from these groups will be the basis for updating the Mobility 2040 Long Range Transportation Plan.
Each task force is assigned to examine the corridor in segments, with the East Task Force studying the roadway east of U.S. 41, and the West Task Force studying the roadway west of U.S. 41.
By February, the goal is to have about a half-dozen recommendations for highway and transit options, or a combination of both, to present to the MPO. Options that will be scrutinized include express lanes for buses and general traffic, light rail, bus rapid transit, toll roads and elevated lanes.
The MPO board then can choose a more in-depth study of the selected alternatives before adopting one that would be vetted at a public hearing.
If that wins final approval, Pasco County officials and the Florida Department of Transportation would add the project to the county’s long-range transportation vision and seek funding over the next 20 years.
“We want to give it force. We want to give it importance,” said Edwards. “It’s an opportunity to do something, and it’s also a costly issue.”
Consultants with Tindale Oliver will help guide the task forces.
The initial meeting outlined duties and expectations of task force members, and overviews of past studies done on State Road 54 and State Road 56. Members selected Sandy Graves of the Central Pasco Chamber of Commerce as the group’s chairwoman. Former Zephyrhills Mayor Cliff McDuffie is vice-chairman.
Graves hopes attention will be given to fixing the intersection of State Road 54 and U.S. 41.
“Historically, this has always been a traffic nightmare,” she said. “This is a 2040 (plan), but they’ve got to do something in 2016. So, I’m hoping something will come out of this to fix that.”
That intersection is one of seven already identified by MPO as “hot spots,” but not so much for congestion. The others are Little Road, Gunn Highway, Suncoast Parkway, Collier Parkway, Interstate 75 and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.
“The main issue today is not necessarily through traffic, but turns,” said Ali Atefi, an MPO transportation planner.
The next meeting for the East Task Force is Dec. 3. The West Task Force kicked off its workshops on Sept. 29, after publication deadline for The Laker/Lutz News. It will meet again on Dec. 1.
According to MPO data, population growth and new jobs will be driving forces in the county’s future transportation needs.
The county’s population from 2010 to 2040 is projected to double from more than 450,000 residents to more than 905,000 residents. Jobs will triple from more than 125,000 to nearly 375,000 by 2040, the study found.
Development along the State Road 54 and State Road 56 corridor will account for about 30 percent of the county’s total increase in residents, and about 31 percent of its jobs.
Empty-nesters and the millennial generation are among those who will populate the county over the next 20 years.
Despite the age gap of these groups, they both want many of the same amenities such as shops, restaurants and safe, walkable communities, said Matt Armstrong, Pasco’s executive planner for the Long Range Planning Group.
“The patterns of what we think we need…we have to make those choices now,” he said. “We have to figure out what pieces of TOD (transit-oriented development) do we think we can accommodate now so, when the time comes, we’re ready for it. We can’t go back and change patterns of development at that point.”
Published October 7, 2015