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Road's country character threatened, neighbors say

Even though county officials say their fears are unfounded, a handful of Tobacco Road residents suspect the soon-to-be-built Suncoast Parkway will turn their rural two-lane road into a major thoroughfare.

"The plans have been made, but not made known to the people," said Tobacco Road resident Ray Stanley. "We're going to be a frontage road. We'll become a high-speed cut through."

Stanley and several neighbors met recently at the home of Carl and Corrine French to discuss a dilemma that has pitted them against state and county transportation and planning officials for the past seven years.

Residents want their street to remain a narrow country road in keeping with the rural character of their acre-size homesteads. But they predict Tobacco Road will become the route of choice for cut-through traffic and speeders once it is realigned to make room for the Suncoast Parkway.

They're going to "commercialize the north end of Tobacco Road" and make it a "straight shot into Carrollwood," Stanley said. "We don't want that."

Tobacco Road connects at the south to Hutchison Road, which extends south to Ehrlich Road. Plans call for the northern end of Tobacco Road to move west of its present route, and west of the future parkway, to a new intersection with Van Dyke Road, said Kevin Thibault, director of production for the state's turnpike district.

But transportation officials contend the change should not significantly alter the nature of Tobacco Road.

"It's still a two-lane road, rural in character," Thibault said. "We're not changing the character at all."

Because the state plans to take 140 feet of right-of-way for the newly designed road, residents are convinced it will ultimately become four lanes to accommodate commercial development at the corner of Van Dyke.

And that, say neighbors, will turn their narrow country road into a major artery, bumping traffic counts from 2,000 cars a day up to about 11,000.

Specifically, residents are worried about an area on Van Dyke just west of the planned new intersection that was rezoned in 1986 for a 110,000-square-foot shopping center. They say more commercial development will follow and bring traffic with it.

"If they don't try to disperse the traffic more evenly now, we're going to be the only north-south road," Nancy Tracy said. "Once a road has been established as a major collector, they won't have any place else to go."

Kim Poulton, turnpike district spokeswoman, said the reason for 140 feet of right-of-way allows for swales to capture stormwater run off, not more lanes.

Shirley Gersholowitz, a manager in the county's planning and growth management department, said the residents' fears "really are unfounded."

"There is nothing in our comprehensive plan that would even call for widening of Tobacco Road," Gersholowitz said.

Tobacco Road is a county road that the state, along with the turnpike district, will build and then turn back over to the county, Poulton said.

The Suncoast Parkway will cost nearly $477-million and eventually connect the Veterans Expressway to U.S. 98 in northern Hernando County. The first phase, which will cover 32 miles north from the Veterans to State Road 50, is scheduled to open in 2001.

Not satisfied with answers from county and state officials, opponents of the Tobacco Road realignment have coalesced into a well-organized group. In the process, they have amassed reams of official records county officials and numerous zoning and land use meetings.

They've highlighted in yellow pertinent points, emphasizing their belief that something is amiss on Tobacco Road.

"It has taken us years to find out why we couldn't get any help for the dangerous situation for our kids," Tracy said. "We need sidewalk and speed control and they totally ignore us, creating a more dangerous situation."

If you have a story about Odessa, call Jackie Ripley at 226-3468.