The Dade City Commission has approved an engineer’s recommendation for the Morningside Drive extension route study, but funding for the initiative remains an issue.
The extension of Morningside Drive is intended to connect U.S. 301 to Fort King Road.
Commissioners on June 8 approved an engineer’s recommendation for the Morningside Drive extension route study, pond siting analysis and report — authorizing work to proceed on subsequent phases of the project, including funding acquisition, design/permitting and right-of-way acquisition.
The route study — completed by New Port Richey-based Coastal Design Consultants Inc. — is next slated to be presented sometime in August to the Pasco County Commission.
The civil engineering firm’s recommended 1.19-mile route includes a roundabout at the Morningside Drive/Fort King Road west segment, circling AdventHealth Dade City hospital and the Pasco County Schools bus garage.
The preferred route — somewhat resembling a Z-shape pattern — veers slightly northeast from Fort King Road, winding south through open water and upland areas within Dade City and unincorporated Pasco County, connecting parallel with the Hardy Trail, then cutting across eastward to the entrance of U.S. 301, passing between Walgreen’s, Buddy’s Home Furnishings, Winn-Dixie and other establishments.
The roadway calls for two, 12-foot-wide traffic lanes; 5-foot bicycle lanes; curbs and gutters; a sidewalk on the south side; and a multi-use path on the north side connecting with Hardy Trail.
The design speed for the Morningside Drive extension is 45 mph with a posted speed of 30 mph.
Stormwater management facilities improvements and a flood plain compensation area also are included in the roadway plans.
Coastal Design Consultants president/owner Paul Manuel shared a detailed PowerPoint presentation at last month’s in-person meeting at the Dade City Commission Chambers.
According to Manuel’s presentation, the winding route “was developed to optimally utilize the available upland area and parcels of property owners who have indicated that they support the proposed extension.”
The implementation of a roundabout, Manuel said, requires fewer right-of-way impacts and is more conducive to traffic calming compared to a signalized intersection. It’s also less costly to build and maintain, he said.
Other considerations taken into account during the route study were community long-range planning goals, safety, environmental impacts, property impacts and costs.
The estimated total capital project cost of the selected route is $12,401,800. Two other alternatives were considered and studied, as well as a no-build alternative.
This amount encompasses estimated construction, design, and construction engineering and inspection ($9.1 million), right-of-way acquisition ($1.7 million) and wetland mitigation ($1.6 million).
The route’s right-of-way impacts affect 18.44 acres, 17 parcels, two businesses and one residence, according to Manuel’s report.
As plans move forward, funding the entirety of the project remains a problem for the municipality, for the time being.
In 2019, Dade City was awarded a $5 million state appropriation for the Morningside project — less than half the project’s estimated total cost. This funding remains available for use through 2024, unless the city requests the state for an extension to complete the project.
The $5 million is roughly enough to just cover the project’s design, permitting and right-of-way access issues before the build portion.
City Manager Leslie Porter told commissioners that staff is “looking internally at how we’re going to bridge that gap” for monies to pay for the roadway.
Some transportation impact fees will be coming through to help cover costs, but Porter said she doesn’t “have a real hard number on that yet.”
She suggested the city ask state legislators for another round of funding for the project, and seek out opportunities with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and beneficiaries of the project, such as the hospital.
Porter pointed out she’s been in regular communication with state representatives and county partners, so decision-makers are aware of the project’s sizable price tag.
Morningside extension yields benefits, but concerns, too
Officials have said the Morningside Drive extension project will yield numerous benefits, such as reducing traffic volume on parallel roadways and stimulating economic development.
It offers direct access to the hospital, on Fort King Road, which was considered a top priority for the road’s extension, and also improves public safety access for police and fire rescue services.
“I think it’s going to benefit not only AdventHealth, but the community at large with the growth and the other things that are happening,” Mayor Camille Hernandez said.
Having the connection to Hardy Trail is an added bonus, the mayor said.
Addressing the funding shortfall, Hernandez observed, “Clearly, well, ($5 million) isn’t going to work. We do know that we have some work to do.”
She said her concerns include both funding for the project and the time frame for completion.
Commissioner Knute Nathe also expressed support for the recommended route extension for its public safety and fresh development opportunities, but emphasized the importance of considering other community concerns throughout the project’s process.
He referred to some vocal citizens — situated along 10th Street, Fairfield Lane and Willingham Avenue — who may be affected in one way or another.
Overall, Nathe said, the project will be “very important for our residents,” particularly from the perspective of patients and doctors more easily traveling to and from the hospital, between Dade City and Zephyrhills. “There’s been a lot of public support for extending Morningside,” Nathe said.
Mayor Pro Tem Jim Shive thanked Coastal Engineering for “a phenomenal job with the assessment and the route study.”
Shive continued: “I agree with what’s being recommended. I think it’s going to be a plus for the city.”
In early May, Pasco County Engineering Services hosted an open house for the Morningside Drive extension, which drew about 40 participants at the Dade City Commission chambers.
Public input was received during and after the meeting.
Comments included general support of the chosen route, but concerns were raised about existing flooding conditions within the study area, right-of-way acquisition required for build alternatives, traffic volumes and noise, and wetland and wildlife impacts.
Manuel addressed those concerns head-on.
“There were a lot of concerns about flooding, which we will make an emphasis during the design process, but that is a process that you’re going to get into a lot more deeply when you get into understanding the design of the project,” he explained.
“There were also concerns to right-of-way acquisitions and how close it is to people’s residences and homes,” he added, noting he read through all of the comments and has a good understanding of the concerns.
As for next steps, the project’s design/permitting period will take about a year, Manuel noted.
Back-and-forth negotiations and regulatory processes on wetland and environmental impacts with state agencies takes up the bulk of that time frame, he said.
Published July 07, 2021