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Parkway curbed at Ridge Road

County Commission Chairwoman Ann Hildebrand got a classic good news-bad news letter from the state Turnpike District this week.

The good news from district production director Kevin Thibault was that the design of the Suncoast Parkway interchange at Ridge Road was "proceeding ahead of schedule."

The bad news concerned the interim connection that will make the interchange a one-way proposition for some time after the massive parkway opens in spring of 2001.

"Due to legal issues, we cannot provide access to Ridge Road from the northbound lanes of the Parkway during this interim condition," Thibault wrote. "Motorists returning by way of the Parkway may still access the western areas of Pasco County by utilizing either of the two full interchanges located at (State Road) 54 or (State Road) 52."

Construction of full-service ramps at Ridge Road won't begin until after the parkway is open to traffic, he said.

"That's a heck of a way to run a road," said Hildebrand, who will bring up the topic before the commission at Monday's meeting. "I'm a tad upset about this, and I'm sure the county commissioners will be too."

Thibault said the temporary connection will allow motorists traveling east on the Ridge Road extension to access the southbound lanes of the parkway. So while they will be able to get on going south, they won't be able to get off going north.

"I just think that it's a very strange letter," Hildebrand said. "And it's not the way we thought it was to be. We put our money where our mouths are to do this. But it looks like we just got shot down. I was really looking forward to getting on and off at Ridge."

But Pasco's Metropolitan Planning Organization director Doug Uden said the intermim interchange is what the Turnpike District envisioned all along.

"Originally, that's what they said in the first place," Uden said.

The county is spending $18.6-million to extend Ridge Road from where it ends at Moon Lake Road to the Suncoast Parkway.

Later, when the county extends Ridge Road farther east to U.S. 41, the interchange will be modified to allow full access onto and off the Suncoast Parkway.

That's expected to happen in 2002.

Eventually, county planners envision Ridge Road extending past the parkway, past U.S. 41 and all the way to Ehren Cutoff. The total Ridge Road extension project will cost an estimated $26-million.

Parkway spokeswoman Joanne Hurley said the "legal issues" cited by Thibault concern rights of way the district won't have until the county purchases them.

"We really can't do that (complete the interchange) until the county gets their right-of-way issues straightened out," Hurley said. "We've purchased the property we need for the interchange, but not all the property we need to provide access to the interchange."

The only significant change in the interchange design, Hurley said, is that now the parkway will go over Ridge Road instead of the other way around.

The Suncoast Parkway will be a 42-mile toll road threading north from Hillsborough County through Pasco and Hernando counties.

The $500-million project, predicted to be a boon to the already booming central Pasco economy, will also have connections at SR 54, SR 52 and the Pasco-Hernando county line.