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  1. Transportation

Pasco-to-Tampa road study doesn't pick a solution

Barricades mark the unfinished link between Mansfield Boulevard in Pasco County and Kinnan Street in the city of Tampa. Times file
Published May 30, 2018

WESLEY CHAPEL — The importance of a new transportation connection between New Tampa and Wesley Chapel apparently depends on your zip code.

A long-stalled proposal to connect Mansfield Boulevard in Pasco County to Kinnan Street on the south side of the county line is favored strongly by Hillsborough residents. In Pasco, not so much.

"For residents of New Tampa, this connector is a necessity,'' said Tampa City Councilman Luis Viera. "We're not saying this is a silver bullet to cure traffic congestion in New Tampa, but it should be approved.''

"If anybody thinks Kinnan-Mansfield can handle 4,000 cars a day, it's not reality,'' countered Pasco Commissioner Mike Moore.

Their comments mirrored the findings, compiled as part of a community open house more than a year ago, in a newly released draft analysis of the Mansfield-Kinnan connection. The results were shared at a second community meeting Tuesday evening at the Porter campus of Pasco-Hernando State College in Wesley Chapel. Viera and Moore spoke to reporters afterward.

The study included examinations of linking Mansfield and Kinnan, plus two other connections — extending Meadow Pointe Boulevard and building the Wyndfields Boulevard Extension.

Currently, red- and white-striped fence barricades, plus several paces of unfinished asphalt separate Mansfield and Kinnan. Getting from one spot to the other involves 11.2 miles of driving along five roads. The direct route has been blocked since the northern portion of Kinnan opened in Tampa in 2007.

Pasco County officials stymied a connection then, saying it wasn't in the best interests of the county's residential road network to accommodate increased traffic from Tampa. The issue resurfaced again in 2015 after an ambulance crew was slow to aid an injured Tampa man because of the road network. Additionally, Tampa City Council is considering a proposal to expand the nearby K Bar Ranch by 700 homes.

Tuesday evening's meeting drew 95 people, several of whom expressed skepticism afterward about an eventual solution.

"It's just going to increase traffic on an overloaded roadway,'' said Ken Esock of the Meadow Pointe 2 neighborhood.

The analysis contained data on the propensity of motorists to drive over the speed limit (everywhere they checked); daily traffic counts (as many as 64,000 on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard in Hillsborough to as few as 2,300 on Kinnan Street south of Oak Preserve Boulevard) and the amount of time spent waiting to go through intersections (nearly 50 seconds at Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and County Line Road).

What the report didn't include was a formal recommendation on what to do.

"We have not had any bias in this study,'' said Ali Atefi, Pasco County traffic engineer. "Because we are not biased, we are not going to make a recommendation in this report.''

Most telling was the public sentiment gathered at an April 18, 2017, open house and online from 157 people. Pasco residents split nearly evenly on the question of connecting Mansfield to Kinnan. Thirty-seven opposed it, and 36 favored it. Hillsborough residents favored the connection by a 62-3 margin.

Extending Meadow Pointe and Wyndsfields boulevards drew much stronger support from Pasco residents. Moore said Tuesday he preferred extending Meadow Pointe Boulevard.

If the roads are connected, and if the other extensions are completed, the new routes could take as many as 7,000 vehicles each day off the Hillsborough portion of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard between Cross Creek Boulevard and County Line Road. But there would be minimal relief of traffic congestion on Pasco roads, the study said.

"What's it do for our residents in Pasco County?'' asked Moore.

The study, commissioned by Pasco County and conducted by the consulting firm AECOM, recommended significant safety improvements on Mansfield Boulevard regardless of future connections.

The road could use $13.8 million worth of work, including traffic signals, turn lanes and some resurfacing. Adding the three connections would cost another $1.9 million.

Pasco County's Metropolitan Planning Organization of elected city and county officials, tentatively is scheduled to receive the draft report and additional public comments in August, with a public opinion poll and final report expected in the fall.

Tuesday, Viera was enthused about a proposal to connect, but install a gate at Mansfield and Kinnan. It would allow access only to public safety vehicles.

"That's first base,'' said Viera. "We want a home run, but that would be a net positive.''

Reach C.T. Bowen at ctbowen@tampabay.com or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2

RELATED: Tampa waits for Pasco decision.

RELATED: Pasco, Tampa revisit road link.

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