Pasco County's proposal to extend Ridge Road has been endorsed by the Pasco Alliance of Community Associations, a not-for-profit organization representing more than 70 of the county's homeowner and condo associations plus community development districts.
One of the reasons for the endorsement is that the project will provide only limited access to Ridge Road if it is extended 4.2 miles to join the Suncoast Parkway and another 3.4 miles to the east to connect with U.S. 41. The rural nature of the area will be disturbed as little as possible.
The endorsement recognizes that, between 2000-2010, our county's population increased by 119,932 residents, or 35 percent. Much of that growth has occurred in the State Road 54/56 corridor from Trinity to Wesley Chapel. It has increased pressure on traffic patterns throughout the county. That alone means existing levels of traffic will benefit from having an east-west connector between State Road 52 to the north and SR 54 to the south.
In addition, Pasco's population is projected to continue to increase, and substantially so. We expect to see more homes built and sold as the economy eventually improves, while current businesses expand and new ones open. The pressure to improve traffic patterns in Pasco County will continue to build. That will make the Ridge Road Extension even more important and critical to our future. There is also a financial consideration: It is anticipated that the cost to construct the extension in this depressed economy will be less than if the road is built later, after the economy rebounds.
The extension will also provide a critical west-to-east evacuation route in times of emergency need, such as in the event of a hurricane or tropical storm. Some will argue the extension is an expensive way of providing a safe haven that may or may not ever be needed. But I liken it to the no-parking policy on the narrow residential streets in many of Pasco's newer communities. That policy is designed to accommodate fire and rescue vehicles. While emergency vehicles may not need that access often, its value is incalculable when it is. The same can be said for the Ridge Road Extension.
We appreciate that the greatest opposition to this project is on environmental grounds, concerns that we share and agree must be addressed. This project would affect 59 acres within the 6,000-acre Serenova Preserve, a wilderness area set aside to offset the 200 wetland acres taken for the construction of the Suncoast Parkway. That set-aside was generous, at 30 times the acreage taken.
If the Ridge Road Extension is approved, the Pasco Board of County Commissioners will offset this taking of 59 Serenova acres by preserving 221 acres of swampland near Starkey Wilderness Park. In addition, the county is committed to preserving one of three other tracts that range in size from 519 acres to 881 acres. That means the taking of 59 acres will be offset by the protection of up to 1,102 acres, or 20 times the acreage being taken.
Our group believes the county's record demonstrates its commitment to balancing development with an increase in the number of protected acres of wetland, wilderness and other open areas within the county.
Some will agree with our alliance's position; others will not. But we should all agree on one point: everyone with an opinion on the Ridge Road Extension plan should file their comments before the Dec. 28 deadline with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It must decide whether to issue permits necessary for this project to proceed.
Comments can be sent by mail to Project Manager Tracy Hurst of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at 10117 Princess Palm Ave. (Suite 120) in Tampa, FL 33610, by email to Tracy.E.Hurst@usace.army.mil or by fax to (813) 769-7061.
The corps set the deadline to maximize the opportunity for public input. Let's ensure it hears from all sides.
Jim Flateau, president of the Pasco Alliance of Community Associations, resides in Land O' Lakes.