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Pasco officials hear opposition to elevated toll road but have little information to share

DADE CITY — Pasco County commissioners say they're getting flooded with emails from residents worried about a proposed elevated toll road project on State Road 54 in south Pasco.

"I see a ground swell of opposition to this project," Commissioner Ted Schrader said during a commission meeting Tuesday.

Schrader said he and other commissioners have received nearly a half-dozen emails daily over the past month or so from anxious residents, mostly from the Trinity area.

At the same time, Schrader said, he's hearing "little of substance" from the companies proposing the 33-mile elevated road, including when they want to break ground and what impacts it would pose on traffic, residents and businesses along the State Road 54 corridor. Even the cost is a mystery, estimated somewhere in the range of $2 billion.

As a result, he said, there isn't much he can say in reply to the home­owners.

"I just wonder where this is all going," said Schrader, who remains undecided on whether to back the project. "I suspect at some point in time we're going to have a room full of residents in red T-shirts showing up."

Commissioners Henry Wilson and Jack Mariano, also the chairman, said they likewise are hearing from residents. Commissioners Kathryn Starkey and Pat Mulieri did not attend the meeting.

The privately funded road was first pitched to the state's Department of Transportation last summer as an unsolicited bid. The idea gained momentum in December when Pasco commissioners approved a resolution urging state officials to study the idea.

The road would link U.S. 19 to U.S. 301 and run parallel to SR 54. The private consortium behind the project would lease right of way, share the toll revenues with the state and pay for construction and the road's operation.

While commissioners remain undecided — saying they need more information — other officials have expressed support, saying the road could offer a solution to increased traffic and housing growth in south Pasco.

County planning director Richard Gehring said he attended a meeting with about 35 Wesley Chapel residents Monday night in which an informal poll was taken.

Of seven ideas — including using high-speed buses on dedicated lanes and doing nothing — the toll road elicited the most support. Second in support were flyovers at key intersections for through traffic. About 20 people participated in the poll.

Meanwhile, some south Pasco residents have launched a group called Pasco Fiasco dedicated to derailing the project for fear it will bring noise and pollution and divide their community. Many of the members have written to commissioners.

Schrader said he's concerned the road issue could mirror the gas tax debate last summer that saw dozens of residents at commission meetings protesting the hike. Faced with the opposition, commissioners scrapped the idea.

"I share some of their concerns," Schrader said of the residents. "I just wonder where this is all going."

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

Pasco officials hear opposition to elevated toll road but have little information to share 02/11/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 10:26pm]
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