It is a familiar route of crawling cars and red brake lights.
Land O'Lakes Boulevard is the main north-south route for local motorists in central Pasco. Known as U.S. 41 through the middle of the county, it provides a daily path for commuters to Tampa, students to high school and rock trucks to work sites. Not to mention, 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, the highway is two lanes of frustration.
Three days ago, the southbound traffic backed up 2 miles from Gator Lane to just shy of Connerton Boulevard. That is the stretch from Land O'Lakes High School to the main entrance to Connerton for those not familiar with central Pasco geography.
Don't blame the high school kids for this snarl. Traffic was jammed at 8:50 a.m., 80 minutes after the start of the first class. And don't point the finger at Mother Nature. The morning rain certainly wasn't slowing the steady-moving motorists in the northbound lane. The daily pattern is repeated every afternoon in the other direction. Three northbound lanes squeeze to one.
"If you're on that road at 4:30 (in the afternoon) you sit and sit and sit,'' said Commissioner Pat Mulieri.
The state has plans to widen a nearly 3-mile stretch of the road from Tower to the point where the proposed Ridge Road Extension will connect. It's on the tentative five-year work plan.
Tentative being the key word. This week, DOT acknowledged the $31.7-million road had been delayed once again. It is now slated to start sometime after July 1, 2012. Figure today's seventh-graders will be worrying about their senior proms around the time this thing gets done if there are no further setbacks.
Unfortunately, the grim news was not unexpected as indicated in a column here last week. Over the past two years, DOT is $6.7-billion short of revenue of which the Tampa Bay region had to absorb $681-million.
That is a lot of cutting and delaying. The Turnpike Authority, the folks overseeing the Suncoast Parkway and who are in charge of planning its interchange with the Ridge Road Extension, are looking at numbers equally bleak.
Ridership and corresponding revenue is down 4 percent from a year ago, the first decline since the 1973 oil embargo. The authority had been projecting a 4 percent increase, which leaves it with $1-billion less statewide to spend. Seventy-five percent of the collected tolls pay off the bonds used to build the highway system and for operations. The other quarter is used on new projects. And by borrowing money, the authority can leverage every $1 available into $14 worth of construction.
Falling toll collections means delaying new work, which means the $20-million interchange planned for the Ridge Road Extension is now out of the authority's five-year program. That didn't sit too well with members of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (county commissioners and elected city officials) who've been authorizing millions to try to plan and permit the Ridge Road route from Moon Lake to U.S. 41. Without that east-west route connecting to the Suncoast, the traffic flow on Land O'Lakes Boulevard is destined to grow even worse.
Which brings us to this odd, but welcome development. The state is sending to Washington its wish list of infrastructure projects that would benefit from a new federal economic stimulus package. DOT has nearly $7-billion worth of road work identified statewide including 16 projects in the Tampa Bay district. The roads aren't ranked in any particular order because officials don't yet know what participation criteria will be established by Congress nor the exact amount of money that could be coming.
Still, first on the list of the local district work to be considered for federal money is Project 256324-l, widening U.S. 41 from two to six lanes between Tower and Ridge roads.
State road planners think U.S. 41 improvements can be delayed until after 2012, but simultaneously say the road is worthy of immediate attention if federal aid is available.
For traffic control through central Pasco, it is the classic case of mixed signals.