KEYSTONE — In this rural community in northern Hillsborough, many property owners agree on at least one thing: Gunn Highway is dangerous.
Increased traffic from Pinellas and Pasco counties has made the highway that cuts through farmland, wetlands and lakes in Keystone-Odessa a major thoroughfare.
But opinions on how to address the problem varied this week at a meeting of the Keystone-Odessa Advisory Committee. Gunn is two lanes wide as it snakes through parts of Keystone, and some residents expressed a desire to leave the road as it is. Others want to install sidewalks and curbs to increase pedestrian safety.
Hillsborough County Planning Commission officials presented residents with five options for improving traffic in the area. Three focus on enhancing Gunn and its feeder roads with sidewalks, bike lanes and turn lanes — without widening the road.
Another would expand the nearby Suncoast Parkway to six lanes, funneling traffic to the toll road that takes Hillsborough drivers north through Pasco County.
Yet another would advocate no change to the Keystone area roads at all.
The planning commission wants to gauge community support for the options before deciding what to include in a larger plan for the area. Funds have not yet been designated for the projects.
"I kind of like the do-nothing," said Sam Prentice, who has lived in Keystone for 35 years. "We like it rural, we want to keep it rural."
But others say traffic accidents have become enough of a problem that some improvements are necessary.
"There are pressing problems up here. You can't walk — there are no sidewalks. We have mobility issues. And with the county's thirst for development, you just get traffic, traffic and more traffic," said Jim Swain, one of the original authors of the Keystone-Odessa Community Plan and the president of the Lake Keystone Property Owners Association.
He wants to see the county slow traffic on Gunn to force commuters from Pasco and Pinellas counties to take other routes through the area.
Keystone residents will vote in a survey on the proposed improvements at an Aug. 30 open house hosted by the planning commission. After three public hearings this fall, the survey results will be included in the Keystone-Odessa Community Plan, which has been undergoing revisions for two years.
Planning commission principal planner Pedro Parra stressed that the transportation improvements discussed at Tuesday's meeting are just the beginning of a larger discussion on traffic and congestion in Keystone.
"This plan, in and of itself, isn't going to solve problems," he said. "But you can use it as a tool."
Aubrey Whelan can be reached at (813) 226-3446 or [email protected]