A rushed plan to build a privately owned, elevated toll road in southern Pasco County is off the fast track amid logical questions about its long-term impact on a community trying to better establish its own identity. That's progress, and Department of Transportation officials shouldn't consider any new plans that don't address mass transit and other concerns.
Earlier this year, International Infrastructure Partners' unsolicited proposal to build and operate an elevated toll road along the State Road 54/56 corridor triggered a DOT request for similar proposals. But the group, citing an unfavorable political climate, withdrew its plan and obtained a deadline extension to December. The partnership's wise move came two weeks after representatives from the Urban Land Institute, hired by the county to provide long-term planning advice, suggested the overhead highway would be counterproductive to Pasco's desire to create a sense of place along the corridor, including more urban residential settings and pedestrian-friendly amenities.
The land institute's recommendation draws on recent history in some other areas around the country where elevated lanes are considered unsightly barriers that disconnect communities. The controversy is also reminiscent of an earlier one in central Pasco and northern Hillsborough when residents and business owners successfully argued that a proposed limited-access state parkway along State Road 54 would damage the sense of community in Land O'Lakes and Lutz.
Also problematic is that the development group's original proposal did not accommodate mass transit. It would add four highway lanes from U.S. 19 to Interstate 75 and eventually eastward toward Zephyrhills, but has no provisions for express buses or other mass transit options. Such profit-driven planning would capitalize on motorists' willingness to pay a premium for a less-congested route but would do little to ensure that as Pasco grows it also improves.
Mass transit must be part of the equation. Re-evaluating the appropriateness of a private, elevated toll road — and its effect on the long-term quality of life in Pasco County — is equally important.