Saturday, September 22, 2018
News Roundup

Toll-road idea delayed, group promises to resubmit proposal

NEW PORT RICHEY — A development group has withdrawn its proposal to build and operate an elevated toll road in south Pasco County but says it will resubmit the idea to state transportation officials in December.

International Infrastructure Partners cited an "unfavorable" political climate, as well as a state transportation study calling for "managed bus lanes," as reasons for rethinking the project along State Road 54/56.

"Given these reasons and the anticipated additional cost to build, IIP and its partners need more time and clarity from all parties affected," Wayne A. Middleton, a partner in the group, wrote to transportation officials this week.

The partnership's request to extend the deadline for developers' proposals surprised local officials who have sought ways to ease congestion on the busy corridor.

The group submitted an initial draft in June, promising the toll road would not involve tax dollars while offering a potential windfall to the state through right-of-way leases. State transportation officials extended the deadline to Dec. 9.

But Pasco's development director, Richard Gehring, urged not reading too much into the delay. "I see it just as asking more time to put their package together, to assess everything that's happened," he said.

Middleton, an accountant from Jacksonville, declined to elaborate when reached by the Times. His letter alluded to a joint study this year by the Department of Transportation and the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority that recommended any toll road in south Pasco allow for mass transit, a prospect not envisioned in the partnership's initial plan. It also referenced a panel discussion two weeks ago that recommended Pasco drop the toll road idea in favor of a beefed-up transit system.

Charles Long, chairman of the panel from the Urban Land Institute, noted that some cities are scrapping their elevated highways because residents and businesses view them as unsightly.

Both the study and the institute's presentation provoked some local leaders to question whether an elevated toll road would resolve future congestion.

County Commission Chairman Ted Schrader said it might be wise to slow down to digest the elevated road idea in light of the institute's recommendation. He suggested a work session with local transportation planners and department officials to talk more about the project.

The Urban Land Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based organization, advises counties and cities on development projects, economics and quality-of-life issues.

The institute's full report is due in about two months.

International Infrastructure requested the extension the day before the Oct. 23 deadline for developers' ideas for the corridor. No other proposals have been submitted.

The 33-mile project would access right-of-way along S.R. 54/56 to link U.S. 19, the Suncoast Parkway, Interstate 75 and U.S. 301. Most of the highway would be elevated. Costs and a timetable haven't been worked out yet and final approval wouldn't come for another two years, said Gerald H. Stanley of Lutz, a partner in the project.

Rich Shopes can be reached at [email protected]

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