Thursday, January 18, 2018
Opinion

Column: Educate before debate on private toll road

If Pasco County commissioners want the public's informed advice on how to meet future transportation needs along the SR 54/56 corridor, they should start by offering to educate us on all the options — and then listening to our input.

It is insufficient for the county to be angering residents by holding a series of what it erroneously labels town hall meetings, and then limiting debate on how to address traffic along the 33-mile corridor between Zephyrhills and U.S. 19.

At a March 10 public meeting, county officials ignored what should have been the main subject: all 18 options they say were reviewed for addressing what is expected to be a massive increase in corridor traffic in the next 20 years. Officials focused solely on the elevated toll road option, even though we won't know if its a viable option until next month when its finances and general design are available for review.

I'm not interested in just telling the county what I am against. I'd prefer to explain what I support. Turning thumbs-down on any option is easy. Making educated choices rating 18 options is not. Pasco residents are up to the task if given the facts upon which to arrive at an informed decision. So where is the public education and discussion of all 18 options?

The county offers us little help via a confusing website designed more for engineers than for the general public. Residents would benefit from a clearer, simpler and more user-friendly website outlining each of those 18 options.

If this were a political campaign, elected officials would find creative ways to get fliers and other printed materials delivering their message into our hands. They should do the same here. A factual summary that condenses all 18 options to a single sheet printed on both sides should be prepared, highlighting that more information on each is available on the website.

Provide stacks of the document to at least a few hundred of the high-traffic stores and businesses along the 54/56 corridor. Ask owners if, as good citizens, they would make them available at their checkout counters and stick them in when bagging purchases.

Distribute it to every community development district, homeowner and condo association in Pasco County. Ask that they publish it in their newsletters, post it on their websites and distribute it at their clubhouses, pools and fitness centers.

Only then should the county host real town hall meetings. Residents should be invited to come together and discuss the options or new ideas that they believe have merit. They should be invited to fill out a form ranking the 18 options. The onus would be on the public to do more than "just say no" and to reach a consensus on which transportation plans best meet our needs. The onus then shifts to commissioners to adopt the one they believe best represents the interests of Pasco residents.

But it will require education today to have that informed debate tomorrow.

Jim Flateau is a resident of Ballantrae in Land O' Lakes. He can be emailed at [email protected]

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