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School to bring heavy traffic

For more than a year, residents in the River Ridge subdivision have watched as a field dotted with trees and shrubs has been transformed into an enormous high school/middle school campus. But construction that isn't taking place is drawing the residents' attention just as much. Despite the anticipated traffic load from the new school complex, no new roads have been built _ and relief is at least a year away.

So, about 7:30 a.m. on the first day of school this fall, some 30 school buses will roll down River Ridge Boulevard toward the school. Add to that the hundreds of cars carrying employees and students who drive to school.

That doesn't leave much room for anything else, and right now River Ridge Boulevard is the only road in and out of the subdivision.

"Can you imagine what it's going to be like to try to get out of here in the morning?" said Shirley Hewitt, a resident of Tall Pines, one of the villages within the River Ridge subdivision.

"It stands to reason that if you have all those buses and cars and the kids driving to school, and you've only got two lanes going in and out, you're going to have a mess."

It didn't have to be that way. Decubellis Road, which runs through the River Ridge subdivision, eventually will be extended and provide two more ways to get in and out of the subdivision. But county officials say the extension of Decubellis is at least a year away.

"It's going to be a real bottleneck," said John Rushford, president of the Tall Pines homeowners association. "We do have a lot of concerns about it."

When the school year starts, River Ridge High will start class at 7:45 a.m.; the middle school will start at 8 a.m. Both will dismiss students at 2:45 p.m.

"I don't think (the School Board and the county) are talking to each other," Mrs. Hewitt said.

Actually, school officials and county officials talk to each other all the time, but the School Board can't force the county to build a road, and the county can't force the School Board to delay the construction of a school. As a result, the enormous campus will be ready in the fall, the road won't be ready, and River Ridge residents had better brace for some traffic jams twice a day.

"It is going to be a hot spot," said Michael Park, director of transportation for Pasco schools. "It's going to put a real burden on transportation for a short period of time (each school day). But, it will get better."

Eventually, there will be three ways to get in and out of the subdivision and the school. When Decubellis Road is completed, it will stretch from Little Road and Massachusetts Avenue all the way through River Ridge and up to Moon Lake Road. It will involve the construction of about two miles of road. Most of it , a little over 1{ miles, is the responsibility of Pasco County. The remaining portion, perhaps three-tenths of a mile, is the responsibility of the River Ridge developer.

But right now the abbreviated Decubellis Road just runs through River Ridge, with dead-ends at both ends. No matter where you go in River Ridge, you have to come back to River Ridge Boulevard to get out.

"The original plan was that the road would be finished before the opening of the school," said Tom Weightman, superintendent of Pasco schools. "That's not going to happen."

County Administrator John Gallagher said he hoped to get started on the project in about six months. If the acquisition of right of way and the construction go well, perhaps the road will be ready within a year to 14 months, Gallagher said. If things don't go well, because of sensitive wetland areas or because some property owners might fight the taking of land, it could be sometime in 1993.

In the meantime, the county plans to help out at the entrance to River Ridge by putting in a traffic signal.

County traffic operations manager Bob Reck said a survey done about two weeks ago indicated there was enough traffic volume at the intersection to warrant installing a traffic signal. And that's without the school traffic.

Reck said he hoped the traffic light would be ready before the start of school, but added that he couldn't guarantee it.

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