Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Transportation

Rising costs eroding support for Ridge Road Extension

NEW PORT RICHEY — The path to an extended Ridge Road from west Pasco to Land O'Lakes is getting bumpier, with support for the long-proposed highway waning from at least one county commissioner.

On Tuesday, Commissioner Mike Moore set his own drop-dead date of May 15 for the now 18-year quest to build the road. Moore said he would seek to terminate the county's contract with its Washington, D.C., consultant if it doesn't have an answer by then from the Army Corps of Engineer on Pasco's environmental permit application to build the road through the Serenova Preserve.

"I can't continue this year after year after year like it's been done,'' said Moore.

Still, Moore joined the rest of the commission in agreeing to pay up to another $347,000 to Dawson & Associates, bringing the consultant's total tab to $1.1^million since 2014.

The proposed 8-mile, multi-lane highway linking Ridge Road's terminus at Moon Lake Road to U.S. 41 in central Pasco is projected to cost $102 million and would be elevated through portions of the 6,700-acre Serenova Preserve. The county has set aside more than $40 million to pay for the first phase of the road, from west Pasco to the Suncoast Parkway.

The county submitted its original application for the federal environmental permit in 1998, and reworked it in 2000, but eventually withdrew the application. The county filed a new request, written by Dawson & Associates, last year. So far, the county has spent more than $17 million for consultants and right of way for the extension.

"I am confident we're taking the steps to some type of closure on our investment,'' said commission Chairwoman Kathryn Starkey, who, along with commissioners Jack Mariano, Mike Wells and County Administrator Michele Baker, recently met with Army Corps officials in Washington.

Environmentalists object to the road's construction, saying it would damage the preserve, which was acquired by the Florida Department of Transportation as mitigation for Suncoast Parkway construction, which began in 1998. Likewise, they have said, the Ridge Road Extension would interrupt a wildlife corridor and pave the way for additional growth, despite the stated purpose of providing a hurricane evacuation route for west Pasco residents.

"That's a decades-old idea that should be allowed to die peacefully,'' Mac Davis of Aripeka told commissioners Tuesday.

Clay Colson, of Citizens for Sanity in Land O'Lakes, said in an email to the Army Corps and shared with journalists that the permit application should be judged on its merits, not on political considerations.

"What good is preservation as mitigation if you get to destroy it later?'' Colson asked.

NEW PORT RICHEY — The path to an extended Ridge Road from west Pasco to Land O'Lakes is getting bumpier, with support for the long-proposed highway waning from at least one county commissioner.

On Tuesday, Commissioner Mike Moore set his own drop-dead date of May 15 for the now 18-year quest to build the road. Moore said he would seek to terminate the county's contract with its Washington, D.C., consultant if it doesn't have an answer by then from the Army Corps of Engineers on Pasco's environmental permit application to build the road through the Serenova Preserve.

"I can't continue this year after year after year like it's been done," Moore said.

Still, Moore joined the rest of the commission in agreeing to pay up to another $347,000 to Dawson & Associates, bringing the consultant's total tab to $1.1 million since 2014.

The proposed 8-mile, multi-lane highway linking Ridge Road's terminus at Moon Lake Road to U.S. 41 in central Pasco is projected to cost $102 million and would be elevated through portions of the 6,700-acre Serenova Preserve. The county has set aside more than $40 million to pay for the first phase of the road, from west Pasco to the Suncoast Parkway.

The county submitted its original application for the federal environmental permit in 1998, and reworked it in 2000, but eventually withdrew the application. The county filed a new request, written by Dawson & Associates, last year. So far, the county has spent more than $17 million for consultants and right of way for the extension.

"I am confident we're taking the steps to some type of closure on our investment," said commission Chairwoman Kathryn Starkey, who, along with commissioners Jack Mariano, Mike Wells and County Administrator Michele Baker, recently met with Army Corps officials in Washington.

Environmentalists object to the road's construction, saying it would damage the preserve, which was acquired by the Florida Department of Transportation as mitigation for Suncoast Parkway construction, which began in 1998. Likewise, they have said, the Ridge Road extension would interrupt a wildlife corridor and pave the way for additional growth, despite the stated purpose of providing a hurricane evacuation route for west Pasco residents.

"That's a decades-old idea that should be allowed to die peacefully," Mac Davis of Aripeka told commissioners Tuesday.

Clay Colson, of Citizens for Sanity in Land O'Lakes, said in an email to the Army Corps and shared with journalists that the permit application should be judged on its merits, not on political considerations.

"What good is preservation as mitigation if you get to destroy it later?" Colson asked.

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