A proposal for a flyover at State Road 54 and U.S. 41 got a big thumb’s down at a recent transportation task force meeting aimed at finding solutions for reducing congestion on one of Pasco County’s busiest east/west corridors.
In fact, the idea of a flyover anywhere along State Road 54 and State Road 56 between U.S. 19 and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard met stiff resistance.
About 50 people, including members of two separate task forces, residents and Pasco County officials, met Feb. 2 at Rasmussen College to discuss options.
Task force members pressed county officials to consider using frontage roads to ease congested intersections and to preserve access to local businesses and shops.
The task force also approved a motion to ask county planners to determine the feasibility of the frontage road option.
“Our solution is at grade, which is what the public wants,” said Tom Ryan, a task force member and economic development manager at the Pasco Economic Development Council. “It (flyover) infringes on their quality of life. There is no way around it. It will affect quality of life.”
Ryan was joined by task force member Robb Sercu who also tossed out ideas for at-grade alternatives rather than flyovers.
The meeting was the first joint session of East and West task forces, which began meeting separately in September. Each was appointed as an advisory board to the Pasco County Metropolitan Planning Organization. Their task is to recommend up to five alternatives that the MPO can consider for future transportation projects over the next 20 years. One option is not to build anything.
The West Task Force is studying State Road 54 from west of U.S. 41, and the East Task Force, from east of U.S. 41.
However, discussion at the joint meeting quickly focused on the intersection of State Road 54 and U.S. 41 as a priority that likely will be the first road project to need funding.
“That is the most congested location at this time,” said Ali Atefi, a transportation engineer with MPO.
The Florida Department of Transportation held a public hearing in January to get input on two alternatives for elevated lanes over U.S. 41. Many who attended said they came away believing they would pay tolls.
“That’s what got a lot of people upset in our area,” said task force member Fred Knauer. “If I go to Lowe’s, I have to pay a toll?”
Atefi said tolls could be a source to pay for the roads, but that hasn’t been decided yet.
County officials also noted that even with elevated lanes, there would be at-grade through lanes at the intersection.
Some of those attending the meeting want tolls to be an option, to help reduce congestion.
“Toll roads do have a place,” said task force member Marilyn DeChant. “They take drivers off grade and put them up (on express lanes). They do have a place to be considered.”
But, task force member Susie Hoeller said toll roads could hurt elderly residents on fixed incomes and local businesses that do deliveries.
“People in government, they don’t look at the real impact on people’s lives,” she said. “I think it’s a bad idea.”
Whatever option that gains approval should be one that is feasible and reasonable, said Ryan.
And, any option that involves construction will cause disruptions including the purchase of right-of-way, he said.
“We shouldn’t hide away from discussing eminent domain. These are going to come up,” he said. “There’s a business or two that might have to move.”
Keystone Community Church, at 21010 State Road 54, also could be in the path of future road construction.
“We’re in a growth mode now,” said Wayne Hawes, chairman of the church’s board of directors. “Are we going to waste our money if we expand our facilities?”
Even if funds were available now, Atefi said construction could be between seven and eight years away.
Funding more likely won’t be available until after 2020.
Some people at the meeting expressed frustrations and skepticism about the planning process.
Dave Miller said the county’s long-range land use plan is too focused on increasing density.
“This is social engineering,” said Miller who lives in west Pasco, off Little Road and State Road 54.
“They are trying to force people into high rises on transit lanes. You need to throw this back at them (Pasco County and the state). This is not workable,” Miller said.
Others seemed skeptical that their efforts on the task force would be taken seriously.
“Ultimately it’s going to be what they want it to be,” said task force member Christie Zimmer. “I’m praying it’s not that, and we won’t get something stuffed down our throats.”
Her remarks drew some applause.
Task force members will complete surveys in the next weeks to identify up to five construction alternatives, plus a no-build option.
The West Task Force will vote on alternatives at its final meeting on March 28. The East Task Force will do the same at its meeting on March 31. Both of those meetings will be from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., at Rasmussen College.
The planning organization will do additional study on the top selections.
What: Town Hall meeting with Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey, and county staff members
When: Feb. 18 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Where: Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, 20735 Leonard Road, Lutz
Published February 10, 2016