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Brooksville officials hold firm on downtown traffic priorities

BROOKSVILLE — Even though a change might help Brooksville officials achieve their goal of a more economically viable downtown sooner, and cost a lot less, the City Council is staying the course and pushing hard to end the one-way streets downtown and reroute trucks from the core of the city.

Earlier this month, the council heard a pitch from Dennis Dix, who heads up the Hernando-Citrus Metropolitan Planning Organization. For years, Hernando transportation planners have been in discussions with the Florida Department of Transportation about the reasons changing Jefferson and Broad streets back to two-way traffic would make sense.

But transportation planning is changing, and Dix explained that the latest phase of study concluded that the DOT believes both U.S. 98 and U.S. 41 would be affected by any changes in traffic routing. Planning and building major road improvements "is a fairly slow process'' and could take eight to 10 years, Dix said.

The plan is to reroute U.S. 98 around the city, and the discussion has been to take it down Cobb Road rather than its current route down Ponce de Leon and into the center of town. That four-lane swap for the current two-lane road would cost about $55 million, Dix said. He added that the likely scenario of also moving U.S. 41 outside the city would mean another $20 million, plus $10 million for reverting the one-way streets, and "it will take 10 to 15 years to make that happen.''

Dix said there is a better alternative that would keep the one-way streets, but make improvements that would address about 95 percent of the other concerns about the current configuration, including finding a way to slow down traffic downtown and encourage trucks to take the truck route around the city.

Brooksville Mayor Natalie Kahler asked just what the solution would look like.

Dix said one term for the changes would be traffic "friction." That would involve narrowing the traffic lanes inside the city and putting in street "furniture," and improving walkways to accommodate walking and biking. With that scenario, vehicles would naturally slow down. Making those kinds of changes would cost less and happen sooner. Doing that work in conjunction with the state's Coast to Coast trail plan and the city's new Florida Main Street Program would help "make it a very user-friendly downtown,'' Dix said.

The concept is called "complete streets" and "is probably the most important thing that MPOs will be doing in the next 10 to 20 years,'' Dix said.

"Suburbia is not what it used to be,'' he said.

He said traffic planners are talking about new walkways in cities that will allow not just bicycles, but a variety of mobility devices, possibly including motorized skateboards and scooters.

City Council member Bill Kemerer asked whether the improvements amounted to "traffic calming (devices) on steroids.''

"It goes much further than that,'' Dix said.

Dix argued that the city's original plan could stay on the priority list but that moving forward with the other ideas would be "doing something sooner rather than later.'' He also noted that the more expensive version — removing the one-way pairs and making changes with U.S. 98 and U.S. 41 — would be competing for money with another pricey project: the expansion of State Road 50 from Brooksville to Orlando, a priority for both state and local DOT officials.

But City Council member Robert Battista said he didn't think it made sense for Brooksville to abandon its priority projects.

"I don't understand why we must give up 98,'' he said.

"It's a reality we're dealing with,'' Dix said. "(State Road) 50 will come first.''

Kahler held firm.

"Our list of priorities is our list,'' she said.'

The rest of the council agreed to make no changes to the priority list. The council also discussed holding a workshop on the other ideas Dix suggested.

Contact Barbara Behrendt at bbehrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

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