Pasco road planners push path beneath U.S. 19 bridge for pedestrian safety

Published September 6 2018

PORT RICHEY — More than a decade after the city of Port Richey studied the idea of building a pedestrian path beneath U.S. 19 at the Pithlachascotee River bridge, county transportation leaders are poised to do likewise.

Later this month, the Pasco Metropolitan Planning Organization — elected city and county officials sitting as transportation planners — will be asked to bless a $30,000 feasibility study funded in part by the cities of New Port Richey and Port Richey.

A path for walkers, bikers and golf cart riders could aid tourists and the waterfront businesses in Port Richey, but the ultimate goal is to reduce pedestrian fatalities along U.S. 19.

"The most dangerous highway on the planet is right here in Pasco County,’’ said Commissioner Jack Mariano.

Mariano, speaking during the planning organization’s Aug. 23 meeting in Dade City, was critical of the lack of progress on the pedestrian path. He sought to bump it to the top of the county’s sidewalk project list for the coming year. It sits at number six after moving up and down the list since 2011.

"It’s a wooden boardwalk under a bridge. We need to get this done,’’ said Jeff Starkey, New Port Richey’s deputy mayor. "People are dying on that road. It’s a cheap alternative to let people get across that highway safely... get golf carts across that highway safely.’’

In 2007, Port Richey commissioned a study by LPA Consultants, who recommended building a walkway under the bridge using the existing riverbank, rather than building a foot bridge. The city, however, had more grandiose ideas with officials touting a floating structure moored off the bridge embankment. The proposed route was between Baylea Avenue east of U.S. 19 to the parking lot of Catches Restaurant on the highway’s west side. The consultant’s report included a option for a wooden walkway on piers driven into the river bed on the north end of the bridge.

The pedestrian path was envisioned as an eventual link for a trail stretching from the Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park to the Suncoast Trail adjacent to the Suncoast Parkway in central Pasco. Port Richey officials acknowledged at the time they didn’t have the money to build the pathway beneath U.S. 19; costs ranged in 2007 from $165,000 to $250,000.

On planning documents, the project is now referred to as the River Gulf Road sidewalk Grand Boulevard to Bayview Street via U.S. 19 underpass bridge. There is no cost estimate, which is one reason for the new feasibility study.

However, the city of Port Richey has not committed to paying $13,000 as its share of the study’s costs, officials said.

"How much money do we need? I’ll get on this today,’’ promised Port Richey Mayor Dale Massad.

Reach C.T. Bowen at ctbowen@tampabay.com or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2

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