Drive along nearly any major Pasco County artery and you are likely to be backed up in traffic — during rush hour.
At the same time, it’s obvious to motorists that work is underway on numerous Pasco roadways.
Once those projects are completed, Pasco’s road network is expected to be better able to handle the county’s considerable growth.
Projects under construction, or that soon will be, are expected to improve traffic flow at State Road 56 and Interstate 75; offer smoother travel through East Pasco County on a new alignment for State Road 52; increase access to Interstate 75 with a new interchange at Overpass Road; and, add capacity at State Road 52 and U.S. 41.
Those projects were discussed a transportation briefing hosted by the North Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce via Zoom — featuring Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Kevin Thibault and U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis.
Thibault and Bilirakis touched on a number of big-picture issues involving transportation.
Thibault talked about the expectation of reduced gas tax revenues over time, as motorists make the switch to electric cars and vehicles with higher fuel efficiency.
Bilirakis talked about the proposed $2 trillion infrastructure package.
He said he doesn’t support the package.
He doesn’t think enough of the money is devoted to traditional projects, such as roads and bridges ,and said too much is directed toward the Green New Deal and human infrastructure projects.
The current proposal, he said, “is a non-starter for most Republicans.”
Thibault said Florida’s transportation solutions must address both existing and future needs.
“We currently have approximately 22 million residents and an additional 800 people a day that keep calling Florida home,” he said.
It’s no secret that Pasco’s growth is adding congestion to its roads.
Transportation improvements, on the other hand, take time to accomplish.
Thibault said it typically takes about nine years to get from concept to concrete —which involves everything from planning, to doing environmental studies, to acquiring right of way, to relocating utilities and so on.
Improvements, however, are designed to have staying power.
“When we begin the efforts on these projects, we usually design them on a 20-year horizon,” Thibault said.
Besides needing assessment and planning work, there’s also the issue of funding.
FDOT District 7 Secretary David Gwynn told those listening: “One of the reasons there are so many projects in Pasco County is because Pasco County has really been a great partner. We work directly with the county commissioners all of the time.
“On some of our projects, the county has actually stepped up and put some skin in the game,” said Gwynn, whose district includes five Tampa Bay area counties.
“The Overpass Road interchange — that’s primarily funded by the county,” Gwynn said.
“The great (State Road) 56 extension that opened just last year, the county stepped up, did a state Infrastructure Bank Loan to fund part of that project and also helped in acquiring a lot of the right of way from the large property owners along the corridor.
“When the county really partners with us, it really allows us to make our money go further, because we can go ahead and leverage some of the local money to match our money.
“The State Road 52 realignment, similarly, the county worked hand-in-hand with us with major developers along that route, to make sure right of way was being dedicated for the project,” Gwynn said.
Bilirakis said he has worked with Pasco County on the Ridge Road extension project.
“I was heavily involved in helping to secure the necessary permits for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to allow Phase 1 of the Ridge Road expansion. It took a lot of years, but we all worked together and we persevered,” he said.
Now, Bilirakis, who represents Florida’s 12th congressional district, said he’s advocating for $15 million in federal funding to help pay for the second phase of the extension.
He realizes it won’t cover the entire cost, but he noted: “It would be a good start.”
The Ridge Road extension is a public safety project that provides an emergency route for residents in West Pasco and North Pinellas counties, Bilirakis said.
At the same time, it helps to reduce traffic congestion by providing another east-west route through Pasco County, the congressman said.
Note: See additional round-up of road projects here.
Published May 12, 2021