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Amid opposition, Pasco commissioners tepid on toll road idea

Commission Chairman Jack Mariano has heard no one in favor.

Commission Chairman Jack Mariano has heard no one in favor.

NEW PORT RICHEY — With neighborhood opposition growing, Pasco County commissioners are sounding lukewarm about a proposed elevated toll road in south Pasco.

At a meeting of the county's Metropolitan Planning Organization on Thursday, three of Pasco's five county commissioners gave tepid assessments of the proposed 33-mile road to run alongside State Road 54/56.

"I think it's disingenuous to keep the ball rolling down the road if there isn't the support for (this project)," Commission Chairman Jack Mariano told planner James Edwards during a project briefing. "I haven't gotten a single positive call. I haven't gotten any positive feedback from the public about this."

Commissioners say they've been flooded with emails from homeowners against the road, mostly in communities nearest to the corridor. With opposition mounting and fears about noise, pollution and other possible impacts, commissioners say they are struggling with whether to embrace the road to address growth and traffic congestion.

Commissioner Ted Schrader said he remains undecided, but he also sounded less than enthusiastic about supporting the plan.

"I'm not sold on it," he said during the half-hour briefing.

Later, he added, "I'm not 100 percent in favor of this toll road."

Commissioner Henry Wilson, who chairs the long-range planning organization, has already voiced strident opposition to the road, while Commissioner Kathryn Starkey has said she's undecided.

Calls to Commissioner Pat Mulieri were not returned.

The project, meanwhile, has ignited criticism in communities along SR 54. About a half-dozen residents spoke against the road at Thursday's meeting.

"Primarily on the homeowners' side, the impacts would be dramatic," said Jason Amerson of Land O'Lakes, who predicted flattening real estate values and an exodus of homeowners if the project goes forward. "This will really impact them on a personal level."

The project is a long way from approval. The state's Department of Transportation is conducting a feasibility study before giving the go-ahead for the work. Pasco commissioners, who would be expected to sign off as well, are awaiting the study before making a final determination.

A consortium of private companies led locally by Lutz engineer Gerald Stanley pitched the idea to state transportation officials last summer. If approved, the highway would be the state's first privately operated toll road.

The group is set to present a conceptual plan to the DOT staff on March 14. Three public meetings would be held in April, May and June. The consortium would then modify the concept as necessary based on input from the public and officials.

Not all of the response has been negative. County planning director Richard Gehring backs the project as a way to tackle growth, and there have been some residents who have warmed to the idea, he said.

During a meeting Monday in Wesley Chapel, a survey by Gehring showed more support for the elevated road than several other options, including flyovers at key intersections.

Rich Shopes can be reached at rshopes@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6236.

Amid opposition, Pasco commissioners tepid on toll road idea 02/13/14 [Last modified: Thursday, February 13, 2014 9:46pm]
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