NEW PORT RICHEY — A month after they said they didn't have the money, state transportation officials have found a way to pay for a critical interchange for the Ridge Road extension.
State Sen. Mike Fasano said Friday evening that Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Kopelousos told him officials believe that the $33.5 million allocated to resurface the Suncoast Parkway in 2011 will also cover the cost of the interchange.
Engineers now think the resurfacing won't cost as much. And enough preliminary design work may mean the interchange won't cost as much as the estimated $21 million, he said.
County commissioners were livid last month after learning that the interchange — which would link the first phase of the proposed four-lane Ridge Road extension to the Suncoast Parkway — had been dropped from the Florida Turnpike Enterprise's five-year plan.
Commissioners said when they agreed in 2005 to let the turnpike put the then-$13.5-million interchange on the back burner, they thought they would have the ability to change that as the permit process progressed.
County officials say they think they are close to getting a decision from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the permit.
The absence of the funding was just one more setback in what has become a more-than-a-decade-long effort to extend Ridge Road as another east-west hurricane evacuation route.
Commissioner Ann Hildebrand, told about Fasano's news Friday, had this reaction: "Be still my beating heart. … I tell you, if it comes to fruition that's phenomenal news."
Fasano had worried that making the case for the money for the interchange would not be easy: Turnpike officials, already dealing with sinking revenues, do not want to reserve $21 million for a project plagued by delays and no clear start date.
Fasano expects to get the transportation secretary's commitment in writing next week.
"I appreciate what they did," he said.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6247.