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The Ridge Road Extension: A decade in words

Ridge Road Extension plans have hit roadblocks and detours over the past 10 years. Here is a brief history of the project in the words of people quoted in Times articles going back to 2000:

April 19, 2000:

Two environmental groups, the Sierra Club and Citizens for Sanity, teamed up to fight the highway.

Sierra Club attorney Lesley Blackner: "This road is going to be another killing field."

Then deputy Pasco County engineer Bill Joyce: "It's a natural connection. Ridge Road already ends at Moon Lake Road. All the extension is, is a little country road connecting Moon Lake to U.S. 41."

July 9, 2000:

Pasco announces it will have to delay groundbreaking for road after U.S. Army Corps of Engineers receives complaints from Sierra Club and others:

Blackner, Sierra Club: "I'm convinced we're going to kill Ridge Road."

Joyce, the deputy county engineer: "The agencies are screwing us up. They're afraid to issue a permit."

Oct. 8, 2000:

Pasco County requests another four months to answer environmental questions of state and federal regulators.

Blackner, attorney for Sierra Club: "I think Ridge Road is finished for now. Of course, these many-headed hydras have a tendency to reappear."

Nov. 14, 2000

After spending $2.8 million and years of effort designing the Ridge Road Extension, Pasco County faced an unsavory choice: spend another $1 million or risk scrapping the project. The work by consultant Pitman, Hartenstein & Associates had fallen short of the Corps standards. The consultant asked for the additional money to do the extra work.

County Administrator John Gallagher: "The question is, is Ridge Road worth building after all the costs are taken into account? If the total cost of the road is $25 million, is spending $1 million more an unacceptable cost?"

Dec. 10, 2000

At least one commissioner questioned keeping Pitman on as a consultant. But Pitman said it had pitched a less expensive study in the first place because both it and Pasco assumed it didn't have to do some of the work required under U.S. Army Corps permitting.

Commissioner Pat Mulieri: "Are we just going to keep throwing money down a black hole?"

Bill Pitman, president of the consulting firm: "Our original job was a Chevrolet and not a Cadillac and now Pasco has got to have the Cadillac."

June 26, 2001:

Delays cause the Department of Transportation to take away the money it planned to spend that year to build the interchange of the Ridge Road Extension with the Suncoast Parkway. County blames environmentalists, but then-state Rep. Mike Fasano blames the county.

Gallagher: "We had all the agencies lined up. The Sierra Club came on the scene and the agencies backed off. It was out of our control."

Fasano: "In my opinion, had the county moved forward in an aggressive manner, they wouldn't have the problems they have today."

October 9, 2003:

Pasco had received its water district permit earlier that year, and officials complained the Army Corps kept laying hurdles in its path. Corps officials said that wasn't the case.

Gallagher: "It seems like the Army Corps keeps questioning the need. At some point we may need legislative help with this thing."

Corps engineer Mike Nowicki: "If they want to throw stones at the Corps for being obstructionist, I'm sorry. They're the ones who haven't responded since February 2002."

Commissioner Ann Hildebrand: "This has been the most frustrating road project we've ever done. And one that's so badly needed."

May 14, 2004

Pasco officials complain again publicly, and U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, reading their remarks in the Times, wonders why no one asked for help.

Brown-Waite: "There is absolutely no reason for them to let something like this get to the crisis stage and then whine about it in the newspaper. If any government entity is having a problem with any federal agency or person, they should pick up the phone and call our office. That's what we're there for. So shame on the county for not picking up the phone."

Then-commissioner Steve Simon: "I think now that she's involved, you're going to see a little change in tune on the Corps' side."

May 26, 2004

Lobbyist Jake Varn, hired that year to shepherd the project, tells commission that he was "optimistic" that the Corps' permit would be forthcoming and that he saw "the light at the end of the tunnel."

Hildebrand: "Hopefully we're down the homestretch."

In the meantime, Brown-Waite's office fired off a letter pinning a two-year delay on the county, not the Corps.

Brown-Waite: "The bottom line is, they did not get back in over two years to the Army Corps. In the past, I have been critical of the Army Corps, but in this case, it's not up to the Army Corps to chase down applicants."

October 15, 2006:

The Times raises questions about how Pasco accounted for its price tag on Ridge Road Extension. Officials have some concerns about the estimates but show continuing support for the project.

Hildebrand: "The longer we tarry, the more it costs. Do we walk away from the millions we've invested?"

Gallagher says it's not a case of build it no matter what: " 'No matter what' leaves a big barn door open. If we have to do more environmental stuff or if (groups) take us to court, it may then become more cost effective to do (State Roads) 52 or 54."

The Ridge Road Extension: A decade in words 02/06/10 [Last modified: Saturday, February 6, 2010 3:33pm]
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