BROOKSVILLE — Creating a more diverse economic base and showing off the attributes of the Hernando County Airport and its affiliated industrial space have gotten loads of attention lately as the community has endured fiscal hardships.
County commissioners this week did something that may help out when they simply shifted a road project on their master priority list.
Sitting as the county's Metropolitan Planning Organization, commissioners voted unanimously to bump up plans to construct what is known as the Ayers Road extension.
When built, the road will provide a much-needed connection from the south end of the airport property to the Suncoast Parkway, allowing freight and supplies easy access to and from the industries at the airport to other modes of transportation in Tampa.
"It's one of our most important new projects in the county,'' said Commissioner Dave Russell. "It's certainly deserving of attention.''
The road extension is slated to connect County Line Road at the Suncoast Parkway up past the southern portion of the airport and over to Ayers Road at U.S. 41. The project will be planned in two sections with the southern portion from County Line Road to the airport done first.
Not only will the road provide for existing airport-based businesses into the future "but the southern access point depends upon this project to a large degree,'' transportation coordinator Dennis Dix told the commissioners.
Russell said Friday that making the road a higher priority is in keeping with the focused road-construction method the county has used. "The whole idea is that we be able to accomplish projects in the shortest period of time which have the most positive effect on the system,'' he said.
Improvements to County Line Road and to State Road 50 have been the county's priorities.
For the Ayers Road extension, the existing funding is almost at a level that the county can move forward with the project. There are still six parcels of vacant land to be purchased for right-of-way, and Dix said the county is poised to do that.
The shift in priorities will come at the cost of the middle section of County Line Road. While the county is moving ahead with plans to widen the road from two to four lanes from U.S. 19 to Cobblestone, the segment from Cobblestone to Mariner is also seen as part of the same project.
Funding to acquire right-of-way is in the budget the next couple of years but construction is still a ways out, according to Dix.
The other segment from Mariner to the Suncoast Parkway will now fall farther down the priority list at least partially because Pasco County, which shares ownership of the road, doesn't see improvements there having the same priority as Hernando does, Dix said.
Meetings with Pasco officials are expected soon to discuss the road improvements.
Dix said changing the road priority makes sense because the Ayers Road extension is a shorter segment and less expensive, the county has already gotten some of the right-of-way from the airport and an adjacent developer and because it assists the airport.
"It's really the only buildable section in the five-year horizon,'' he said.
Russell said the county recognizes that all of County Line Road needs improvement and it will eventually get it. "We're doing it as we can afford to do it,'' he said.
Funding for the projects comes from a variety of federal dollars that pass through the state Department of Transportation as well as local sources such as impact fees.
In an unrelated move, the commissioners also shuffled the priority ranking for smaller projects such as trails, drainage and sidewalks that are considered transportation "enhancement projects.''
While the project has been talked about as needed for a while, this was the first year that a sidewalk is listed for Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard from Main Street west. It was presented as the second priority on the list but Commissioner Chris Kingsley asked the list be reordered to make it the No. 1 priority.
Dix said on Friday the project was never on the list before because the right-of-way is very constrained along the stretch and there are segments where drainage ditches along the road prohibit construction of a sidewalk.
But recently Dix saw a new idea in Dade City, sidewalks which are basically board walks over ditches. The county staff will examine the feasibility of the sidewalk project, which will determine when and if the sidewalks can be built.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.