Skip Geiger stood before the New Port Richey City Council this week with a simple plea. After several years of jumping through the bureaucratic hoops necessary to get his Gulf Harbors community approved for golf carts, residents want to be able to cross U.S. 19 to enjoy New Port Richey’s revitalized downtown.
Instead, neighbors recently found that the city had installed signs prohibiting golf cart crossings at several key intersections along the busy roadway. That action, he said, “has now denied access to golf carts to downtown” for his area and all neighbors on the west side of U.S. 19.
He congratulated the city for their recent work to improve downtown but said his neighbors won’t visit now. “We’re not going to fire up our Tahoes and Chevys to cross one road,” he said.
Mayor Rob Marlowe said it wasn’t the city that made the access decision. Only the local district for the Florida Department of Transportation, which oversees state and federal roads like U.S. 19, can approve such a crossing.
“There has been no permission provided by the district yet for the crossing of golf carts,” Marlowe said.
“It’s not that the signs make them illegal. The crossings already are illegal,” said City Attorney Timothy Driscoll.
Council member Matt Murphy said the issue of golf carts crossing U.S. 19 has come up frequently with state road officials at the Metropolitan Planning Organization meetings. While the agency is looking into the matter, “They are working at the speed of government, unfortunately,” Murphy said.
City Manager Debbie Manns said that the residents might also consider reaching out to their state legislators, who might be persuasive with the state roads agency.
Stephen Blanchard, who lives near U.S. 19, said he is disabled and needs the use of the golf cart to get around because he no longer drives. The community needs the Department of Transportation to get involved and help, he said.
Marlowe agreed, saying that the state’s help is needed because even though signs are up now, people will continue to cross U.S. 19 and the state needs to be sure that there are safe intersections for the golf carts.
Pasco County commissioners also discussed the issue this week. Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said she had also heard from Gulf Harbors residents and that she regularly told the secretary for the local Department of Transportation District about the need for crossings for golf carts. County Attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder said the city and county would likely have better luck if they ask together.
While state roads officials have been working on making U.S. 19 safer for pedestrians and bicyclists because the stretch of road is among the most deadly in the country, the agency hasn’t made golf cart crossings a budgetary priority.
Several proposals have been discussed over the years that could potentially be built to allow golf carts to travel back and forth across U.S. 19 without affecting traffic flow. Those include building a trail under the Cotee River Bridge between the cities of Port Richey and New Port Richey, which has stalled for lack of a funding source.
The other is a pedestrian bridge over U.S. 19 near Marine Parkway. That project has some funding from the New Port Richey Community Redevelopment Agency but will require additional funding to be built.