When motorists get to the end of State Road 56 at Meadow Pointe Boulevard, they’ll see cows grazing in an open pasture.
But Zephyrhills leaders are pushing for an entirely new view for that plot of land.
They envision it as the start of the first four-lane road to lead into their community.
And, they’re turning up the heat on state lawmakers and county officials to try to make that happen.
They presented their case at a town hall meeting on Feb. 23 with State Rep. Danny Burgess and State Sen. John Legg.
The four-lane extension of State Road 56 from Meadow Pointe Boulevard in Wiregrass Ranch to U.S. 301 in Zephyrhills could serve as a catalyst for new business, and would make it easier for people to come and go from Zephyrhills. It also could serve as another hurricane evacuation route, according to city and business leaders.
The question is how to pay for it.
There are plans to extend State Road 56 from Meadow Pointe Boulevard to U.S. 301, but those plans call only for a two-lane road, and even that road is contingent upon securing land from adjacent landowners to make it happen.
Zephyrhills leaders made it clear that a two-lane road falls short of their expectations.
“This city deserves a four-lane highway coming into our city,” said Charles Proctor, who serves on the Zephyrhills City Council and has had a business in the city for more than two decades.
He said the community has been promised a four-lane road for years, and that residents have been under the impression that they were finally going to get one, in State Road 56.
It’s time for action, city leaders said.
“We need to get serious. We need to find a way. We can find it. It’s time,” said Vonnie Mikkelsen, executive director of the Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce.
“These folks deserve a little bit of attention,” added Mikkelsen, who also is involved in the Zephyrhills Economic Development Coalition, made up by Pasco Economic Development Council, the Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce, the City of Zephyrhills, the Zephyrhills Municipal Airport, Main Street and businesses of Zephyrhills.
A four-lane road into the city, providing a connection with Interstate 75, is vital, leaders said.
It’s a wise investment for the region, Mikkelsen said.
It will help Zephyrhills make the most of its target market opportunities in the aviation industry, distribution, manufacturing and small business, she said.
Paying for the project is a major stumbling block.
Debbie Hunt, transportation development director for the Florida Department of Transportation, said there’s no money in the state’s budget to build a four-lane extension of State Road 56.
“DOT never intended or expected to build at any time in the near future. So, the fact that it was able to be advanced and we are doing the two lanes is exceptional. It allows traffic from Zephyrhills to be able to get over to the interstate, when it is completed.
“The additional lanes will be based on development, as it occurs. There is not an intention from the DOT to fund (lanes) three and four,” Hunt said.
If four-laning State Road 56 is funded, the money would need to come from not doing some other project that’s on Pasco County’s list, she said.
“There’s only so much money to go around,” Hunt said.
One option that’s been proposed calls for building all four lanes, with the state paying for all four lanes initially and developers repaying the state for lanes three and four.
That approach might work, Legg said, but he added he’s not aware of a current way, under the state’s statutes, that could be achieved.
“If we could find a statutory way to loan them the money that they would pay back, that may be an opportunity,” Legg said.
Legg agreed with Hunt that even the two-lane road from Meadow Pointe Boulevard to U.S. 301 had not been envisioned before former Speaker of the House Will Weatherford became involved in advocating for East Pasco’s transportation needs.
“Some of these things were not even on the map, but we had a Speaker of the House that kind of helped this area, helped carve an opportunity to get two lanes,” Legg said.
Legg and Burgess both pledged to keep pushing for a way to get the four-lane project done.
“We’re trying to use whatever kind of leverage we can to push those projects faster, to accelerate them,” Legg said. “The political process is trying to force opportunities.”
Former Mayor Cliff McDuffie said the most effective way to get action is to speak up.
“We need to be more politically involved to make sure your voice is heard. Don’t sit here in Zephyrhills and cry. Go to (Pasco) County Commission and cry,” McDuffie said.
“You have to show up. If you don’t show up, shut up,” McDuffie said.
Both Legg and Burgess said they understand the important role that transportation plays in economic growth.
“Pasco County is booming and (State Road) 56 is obviously just imperative,” Burgess said. “It’s a big piece of that puzzle in attracting future business owners, corporate opportunities and connecting them to our infrastructure and our resources in Zephyrhills, such as our airport, what an asset.”
Legg agreed: “The transportation, in my mind, is really going to shape the growth, or the lack of growth, or the type of growth that this community would like to have in the next 10 to 20 years.
“If this is the avenue that you want to go down, we will put our backs to the plow and try to make that happen,” Legg said.
Published March 4, 2015