The city of Brooksville wants to alter its downtown from a place to drive through to a place to drive to by changing the traffic patterns on Broad and Jefferson streets, the main thoroughfares that double as U.S. highways 41 and 98 in the city.
It's hardly a new idea, but with a fresh perspective from the Brooksville Visioning Foundation and engineer Cliff Manuel, the city and nonprofit group plan to ask the state Department of Transportation to reverse its 20-year-old decision that created a pair of one-way streets through the central business district. Among other things a new traffic pattern could mean designating Cobb Road as U.S. 98 and Emerson Road as U.S. 41, realigning an intersection with State Road 50A and building a proposed half-mile connector through mostly publicly owned land that would mitigate right of way costs. The city also would have to agree to absorb all future maintenance costs for Broad and Jefferson streets that now are covered by the state.
The City Council blessed the conceptual plan last week and the Hernando County Commission will be asked to do likewise Dec. 17. The commission, and later the Metropolitan Planning Organization, shouldn't hesitate to do so. The plan's key element is to direct trucks (11 percent of the current traffic) and other fast-moving motorists on the U.S. highways to routes around downtown. The results will be a more pedestrian and bicycle-friendly business district that could benefit from becoming a destination rather than a passing blur outside a car window.
The genesis of the one-way street pairing dates to the late 1970s when city leaders said it could relieve traffic congestion. It turned out to be short-sighted. The state DOT later revived the plan and designated Jefferson and Broad streets into parallel one-way routes in 1993 to expedite transportation of goods and services along the federally designated highways. Unfortunately, the one-way streets ran contrary to local merchants' wishes and also made crossing the streets unsafe for pedestrians. The city and county have talked of a reversal since the 1990s.
Moving the designated routes for U.S. 41 and U.S. 98 outside of downtown also could translate to long-term savings for the public since the eventual widening of those federal roads could require exorbitant spending for rights of way and business damages if the U.S. highways remain in the downtown core.
Changing the traffic flow through downtown won't solve all of challenges facing local merchants. The city of New Port Richey in western Pasco, for instance, shrank its main downtown route to single lanes in each direction to slow traffic and to capture attention for the businesses there, but its downtown still struggles with unfinished developments and a business district heavy on professional offices instead of retail shops.
In Brooksville, many of the details need to be fleshed out, including eventual costs and a marketing strategy to direct some of those passing motorists back to downtown for shopping and eating. But assembling a workable transportation plan to present to state officials is a logical step in the ongoing downtown revitalization. The visioning foundation should be commended for its leg work and DOT should lend a sympathetic ear when it hears the pitch.