BROOKSVILLE — At a December community meeting in Brooksville, state Department of Transportation representatives fielded questions about the next Cortez Boulevard widening project. The most obvious question: Why is it needed on the fairly empty road through largely undeveloped land?
The state was gathering input about an $86 million project to widen Cortez, also known as State Road 50, from four to six lanes from Brooksville to Interstate 75, a distance of 7.2 miles.
Amber Russo, the transportation consultant on the project, told members of the Hernando Citrus Metropolitan Planning Organization last week that preparing for work of that scope takes decades.
By 2040, that stretch of road could be carrying 55,000 vehicles per day, Russo said. Without improvements, many of the intersections would be rated an “F,” indicating they are not functioning properly. The Florida Department of Transportation lists the annual average daily traffic count for that stretch of Cortez Boulevard at 22,000 in 2018.
"This area is growing,'' Russo said. "We just want to ready for it.''
The Department of Transportation hopes to begin soon on road design and land acquisition. The ultimate goals, Russo said, are to handle the growing capacity, increase overall safety and improve hurricane evacuation routes.
Between 2013 and 2017, records show 280 vehicle crashes on that stretch of roadway, including 142 injuries and five fatalities. Eight crashes involved bicycles or pedestrians. The intersection with the most crashes was at Spring Lake Highway.
State road planners categorize stretches of road. The Cortez Boulevard widening would include 4.2 miles closest to the city of Brooksville considered rural. The remainder would be considered suburban residential. Each stretch would get six lanes, with medians and sidewalks on either side of the roadway.
That prompted discussion from members of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, made up of members of the Hernando and Citrus county commissions and the city councils of Brooksville, Crystal River and Inverness.
When they held their community meeting, did residents say they wanted sidewalks, asked Hernando County Commissioner Jeff Holcomb.
"I’ll be honest with you,'' he said. "They’ve always called them the sidewalks to nowhere,’' because on other stretches of rural Cortez Boulevard, they are rarely used.
Fellow Hernando Commissioner John Allocco said he also was concerned about sidewalk maintenance, especially if no one was using them.
Sidewalks are a standard part of roadway design, Russo said, and while they might not be used much in the early days, development will come, and they will be used in the future.
The next step for the project is analysis of the public comments and some minor adjustments related to those comments, Russo said. Several concerned changes proposed for the medians.
Then the new design will be drawn up and submitted to the Department of Transportation. When funding is available, the project will move into the design phase, with construction money potentially available beginning in 2036, she said.