An elevated toll road flying over U.S. 41 could split the community and shut down some longstanding Land O’ Lakes businesses, according to area business owners who spoke at a public hearing about redesigning the intersection at State Road 54 and U.S. 41.
They told representatives of the Florida Department of Transportation that a “no build” option is the best choice, at least for now. Several suggested that a by-pass to direct traffic around the intersection would work better than an elevated State Road 54.
More than 100 people took part in the public hearing on Dec. 10 at the Myrtle Lake Baptist Church, off State Road 54.
Those attending could see exhibits of proposed road construction, could watch a video and could offer public comment.
“We are not against development, but development should not be done for one group at the expense of so many others,” said Elayne Bassinger, president of the Central Pasco Chamber of Commerce.
Bassinger renewed an earlier request for the state transportation department to schedule workshops to permit a more in-depth discussion of the issues for residents and business owners.
While some favor a no-build option, others want solutions for an intersection that often is described as being “a nightmare.”
About 99,000 vehicles per day cruise through the intersection, according to state data. By 2040, state highway officials predict that to more than double — with an estimated daily count of 208,000 vehicles.
John Spear moved into a subdivision off State Road 54 in 2010.
He said he and his wife often sit in traffic for five minutes or more.
When they first arrived in Land O’ Lakes, he said, “Traffic used to be light. Now the lanes are full. I’m appreciative of something like this being done. It looks like a lot of thought has gone into this.”
Stephen Riddell, a Canadian snowbird, recently returned from Ontario. “In the last six months traffic has increased tremendously,” he said. “I think improvements are needed. I don’t know which alternative yet.”
But, some think an elevated roadway would essentially be a wall, separating Land O’ Lakes and Lutz.
They said the purpose of the new interchange seemed to offer more benefits to motorists from other counties, including Pinellas.
“The Land O’ Lakes community deserves to be more than a high-speed avenue carrying cars east and west through our community,” said Ann Childers. “No build, that’s the only thing I could vote for as a resident in good conscience.”
The state department of transportation is conducting a study to evaluate the project before settling on the design and type of improvements for the intersection. The completion date for the study is spring 2016.
About $3.4 million is available for design work. However, no money is budgeted to purchase rights of way, or for construction.
Improvements to the intersection are among Pasco County’s 2015 list of top 10 traffic priorities.
Two construction alternatives would elevate State Road 54 over U.S. 41, and both would have toll lanes. A no-build option is possible, too.
One proposal for the State Road 54 flyover would cost about $160 million. That would require about 70 acres in rights of way. About 24 businesses could be relocated based on loss of property, according to state transportation data.
The new intersection would have four through lanes on U.S. 41 in each direction, two through lanes at-grade and two elevated lanes on State Road 54.
The more expensive alternative would cost about $180 million, and would require about 30 acres in rights of way. No additional lanes would be added to U.S. 41, and turn lanes would not change. There would be two through lanes at-grade and two elevated through lanes, again on State Road 54.
Under this option, six businesses could potentially be relocated including Russell Adams Realty, MCOR Automotive, Pinch a Penny, Hungry Howie’s Pizza, McDonald’s, 7-Eleven and CVS Pharmacy.
Keystone Community Church also could be in the pathway of construction.
The hearing was intended to gather input from the public, and that will be considered before a decision is made, said Kirk Bogen, environmental management engineer for FDOT in District Seven.
“They are both viable alternatives,” he said. “We’re coordinating with county planners.”
Bogen said the no-build alternative also remains an option.
Meanwhile, property owners say they are in limbo.
“It’s the waiting game until they decide,” said Russell Adams, owner of Russell Adams Realty on U.S. 41. “You can’t build more, and it’s hard to sell.”
Adams said he can see that something has to be done, but said poor planning has been the problem.
Thousands of homes in new subdivisions have been approved over the years, and he said, “They know when you plan homes, you’ll have 2.5 cars (per home).”
Trinna Van Nostrand’s family has owned a bar on U.S. 41 since the mid-1970s. It was known as Sam’s Place when her father operated it, and mostly recently as Rock Harley Saloon.
Like many business owners, Van Nostrand said the previous widening of U.S. 41 chopped off part of her property. The bar now sits a few feet off the road.
The new road project could chop off even more land.
“If they are going to take my building, I don’t want to spend a lot of money on it,” she said. “I’m fortunate to have enough in the back to move back, but being in limbo, I can’t do anything.”
Published December 16, 2015