Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Transportation

Some roads just don't need to be wider

Driving on the six-lane, salt flats-like expanse of U.S. 41 south of Brooksville, do you see it as a great example of government foresight?

Cruising along on the Suncoast Parkway north of State Road 50 — if, that is, you ever have reason to venture to that remote corner of the county — do you feel like thanking the gurus who decided you needed your own personal freeway?

No, probably you think that local boosters did a little too much boosting, that the state Department of Transportation got a little ahead of itself.

You also might have assumed that with such glaring examples of road-building waste in Hernando, our county commissioners would have learned their lesson.

They haven't.

Still apparently unable to tell boon from boondoggle, they voted at Tuesday's Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting to seek a large and mostly unnecessary handout from the DOT:

The resolution they plan to send will recommend expanding the 1-mile stretch of State Road 50 between Interstate 75 and Kettering Road from four lanes to six; widening the rest of SR 50 from two lanes to four all the way to Mascotte, on the outskirts of Orlando; and extending the irrelevant northern stretch of the Suncoast Parkway through Citrus County, giving us all-important, speedy access to Yankeetown.

Getting behind the extension of the parkway is, as far as I can tell, just a bad habit commissioners can't shake.

The improvements on SR 50, meanwhile, are being pushed by people who own large tracts of land near the interchange, including Realtor Gary Schraut, part-owner of a mostly vacant industrial park that was built with the help of taxpayer money, and banker Jim Kimbrough, a partner in what he hopes, someday, will be the 4,800-unit Sunrise development.

I'd point out the irony of these expensive requests coming from supposedly small-government Republicans and that politicians of the same variety — including the city of Brooksville's representative on this board, Mayor Lara Bradburn — scrambled to come to their assistance.

But then I'd be leaving out the contributions of new Democratic Commissioner Diane Rowden, who was so eager to be accepted into the club of business-friendly road builders that she proposed expanding even the most isolated stretches of SR 50 not to four lanes, but to six.

Look. I understand all of this to a degree.

Because the state plans to widen I-75 to six lanes starting in 2014, it will also widen SR 50 for a few hundred yards on either side of the freeway.

This "improvement" comes with other changes that may cause as many traffic problems as it solves. It's also notable that more than 300 trucks per day arrive or depart from the Walmart Distribution Center, which is on Kettering Road about a mile east of I-75.

So, it's absolutely worth getting in requests for sensible median cuts and maybe even frontage road improvements. And, yes, widening SR 50 is far more defensible than the parkway extension, because this area has been imagined as not just a residential center, but an industrial one.

But I'd also point out that it's been imagined that way for at least 25 years and, still, much more has happened on planning maps than on the ground. And considering the costs — more than $11 million to take a mile of the typical highway from four to six lanes — it's pretty clear, or I thought it was pretty clear, the state should save major transportation projects for real hubs, not imagined ones.

Currently, the four-lane stretch of SR 50 is carrying only half its capacity between I-75 and Kettering and one-third from that point to U.S. 98. Even the two lanes that run from U.S. 98 through the Withlacoohee State Forest and metropolises such as Tarrytown can safely hold 45 percent more cars than they do now.

So it doesn't need to be four lanes. Which means, Commissioner Rowden, it definitely doesn't need to be six.

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