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  1. Pasco

Mark your calendars: Pasco targets opening of Ridge Road Extension lanes for Aug. 10, 2020

Map of the planned Ridge Road Extension in Pasco County.

DADE CITY — Pasco County spent more than two decades trying to figure out how to get the Ridge Road Extension built. Now it's trying to figure out how to get it built it faster.

The county, as it awaits a final decision on its federal permit application, is planning a series of incentives to encourage the eventual contractor to open the initial lanes between Moon Lake Road and Town Center Boulevard in less than a year.

"It's good news for us and good news for Pasco County,'' said Commission Chairman Ron Oakley.

The plans for expedited construction of the proposed 9-mile route, which will connect Moon Lake Road to the Suncoast Parkway and on to U.S. 41 in Land O' Lakes, comes even though environmentalists continue their objections.

''My focus is to save the Serenova Wilderness Preserve from being sliced and diced by a road to nowhere,'' New Port Richey resident Daniel Callahan told Pasco commissioners during a March 26 meeting.

The county, however, is "cautiously optimistic,'' said County Administrator Dan Biles, that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will approve the environmental permit on Sept. 23. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has withdrawn its earlier objections, said Sam Beneck, the county's project manager on the Ridge Road Extension.

The county has budgeted $77.1 million for design, land acquisition and construction. It submitted its first request for the federal permit in 1998 and reworked it in 2000, but eventually withdrew the application. The county filed a new request, written by its Washington D.C. consultants Dawson & Associates, in 2015.

The pushback from Callahan and others comes because the highway's planned route cuts through the Serenova Preserve, a 6,500-acre parcel purchased by the state to offset environmental damages tied to the Suncoast Parkway construction in the 1990s. The design for the Ridge Road Extension calls for the first leg of the road, from Moon Lake Road to the parkway, to be elevated via 18 bridges. The second portion, from the parkway east to U.S. 41 would be built at-grade with developers picking up the cost.

The Florida Turnpike Authority is responsible for building the $15 million interchange at the parkway. On Tuesday, commissioners approved setting up procedures for the state to repay $3 million the county fronted for the interchange design costs.

As part of that discussion, Beneck briefed commissioners on the planned incentives that would reward or cost the contractor $15,000 for each day it beats or misses a construction deadline.

The plans call for four lanes of highway between Moon Lake Road and Town Center Boulevard to be open Aug. 10, 2020 — the start of the school year — to ease congestion from traffic at River Ridge middle and high schools. Two lanes would carry traffic from Town Center Boulevard to the Parkway by May 31, 2021, the start of hurricane season. And the final two lanes, which effectively completes the first phase, would be done a year later by the start of the 2022 hurricane season.

The contractor can earn up to $2.4 million in incentives for completing the project ahead of schedule. Commissioners will be asked to formally approve the incentive program at a future meeting.

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

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