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Pasco task force targets traffic snags on U.S. 19

(ran West, Seminole, Beach editions)

A new task force will study problems along the entire length of U.S. 19 in Pasco County in hopes of quickly and steadily attacking trouble spots with state and federal dollars.

The Metropolitan Planning Organization, the county's transportation board made up of county commissioners and city council members, voted Thursday at the West Pasco Government Center to form the task force modeled from the one in Pinellas County.

Even before its formation, the task force got its first assignment.

"Ridge (Road) and (U.S.) 19 will be one of the first targeted projects," MPO member and County Commissioner Ann Hildebrand said.

Fellow member and County Commissioner Peter Altman said the clogged intersection, besieged by increased traffic from the Wal-Mart, can't wait.

"Whatever we can do at this point right now, we need something in our hands to go somewhere and say this has got to be a priority," Altman said.

With road rage potential there growing, county officials said they were at a loss on how to relieve the problem.

Robert Clifford, state Department of Transportation planner, said he would report back at the next MPO meeting next month on the update on possible improvements to the intersection.

But the likely long-term solution, said county transportation planning coordinator Doug Uden, could eventually be an overpass.

"I might say eventually is here," Altman said.

Clifford put the possible price tag, based on experience in Pinellas County, at $100-million in taxpayer dollars.

"We'll come back with statistics and background," he said.

MPO members hope that the task force, to be assembled by MPO staff members, will help tackle problems at busy and accident-prone intersections such as Ridge and U.S. 19.

Sarah Ward, planning administrator with Pinellas County, told the MPO that the 24-member task force in her county met over six months before releasing a report in June 2000. The task force held two public hearings, one to target problems and one to get feedback on solutions. Sixty recommendations came out of the task force and its subcommittees.

Because the plan was a coordinated approach to problems along all of U.S. 19 in Pinellas, it secured $60-million worth of federal and state transportation funds, Ward said. Some of the proposed solutions _ including sidewalks, coordinated signals, new turn-lanes and changed traffic flow _ currently are under way.

Pinellas started its task force under the same circumstances as those now facing Pasco, Ward said after the meeting.

"There were several groups working on individual problems on (U.S.) 19 but no one working together," Ward said.

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