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State wants Pasco's $8 million from stimulus to widen U.S. 41.

LAND O'LAKES — Pasco County expects to get at least $8 million from the federal stimulus package for road improvements, but state officials have told county leaders they want all that money to be pledged toward the widening of the northern section of U.S. 41.

County Commission Chairman Jack Mariano said he talked with Don Skelton, who is the District 7 secretary for the Florida Department of Transportation, and learned that the state would be able to pay for the rest of the $33 million cost if Pasco committed all its take to the project.

Mariano said he'd be okay with that.

"It's our top priority," he said.

DOT officials confirmed the $8 million minimum allocation but not the proposal to widen U.S. 41.

"It's not been finalized yet," spokeswoman Kris Carson said.

Commissioner Pat Mulieri, whose district includes the highway, said she was "thrilled" that it could get widened but she hopes the county ends up with more than $8 million.

"They said counties that were economically depressed would get first priority," she said. "And we meet the criteria."

In December, the County Commission endorsed a $1.4 billion list of Pasco projects that could take a shot at federal stimulus money. Road work made up most of the list.

But Florida DOT officials and regional planners are setting priorities based on Florida receiving about $1.5 billion for road projects statewide.

Of that, $100 million could go to the Tampa Bay area. Pasco's slice would come from that money. To qualify for funding, projects should be completed within three years.

The top priority was widening U.S. 41 to four lanes between Tower Bridge Road and the future juncture with the Ridge Road extension.

U.S. 41, also known as Land O'Lakes Boulevard, is the main north-south route for local motorists in central Pasco. It provides a daily path for commuters to Tampa, students to high school and rock trucks to work sites. And it is the only way to and from home for the people in Connerton and other neighborhoods north of Ehren Cutoff.

It is six lanes wide from Tower Road south through Lutz. Northward, however, it's two lanes.

The 3-mile stretch has been on the state's tentative five-year work plan, but had been delayed until July 1, 2012.

"There's an awful lot of traffic that moves through Pasco County," said Stewart Gibbons, president of Connerton and chairman of the Pasco Economic Development Council. "And it presents a lot of congestion. Our residents have expressed concerns about it."

Gibbons said a wider highway would aid commuters but also make the area a more desirable location for businesses. A new hospital is set to open soon.

State Sen. Mike Fasano also said U.S. 41 would be a great project for the stimulus money, and he promised to help secure state money if needed.

"It's shovel ready, and the right of way has already been purchased," he said.

Lisa Buie can be reached at buie@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4604.

by the numbers

$8m The least amount that Pasco County will receive from the federal stimulus package for road improvements.

$25M What the state would cover if the $8 million is used solely on the widening of the northern section of U.S. 41.

State wants Pasco's $8 million from stimulus to widen U.S. 41. 02/27/09 [Last modified: Friday, February 27, 2009 9:07pm]
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