DADE CITY — Red dots blocked a road connection between Wesley Chapel and New Tampa.
Seeing a litany of Mansfield Boulevard residents opposed to the link — symbolized by red dots on a map illustrating the results of a recent public opinion poll — Pasco's road planning agency effectively killed the idea of fully connecting Mansfield in the Meadow Pointe neighborhood to Kinnan Street in Tampa.
The Pasco Metropolitan Planning Organization's unanimous vote June 11 was just a recommendation, but carried the sense of permanency. The final decision rests with county commissioners who sit, along with elected city officials, as the road-planning board.
The result was not unexpected. Board members tipped their hands in December, prior to the survey, after hearing residents' objections. The neighbors repeated their concerns last week.
"I'm one of those red dots firmly planted on Mansfield,'' said Brad Jorgensen, a father of two boys who ride their bicycles to the nearby school. "This isn't about not in my backyard. This is about the safety of our kids in our neighborhood.''
Mansfield Boulevard is a north-south two-lane road running between State Road 56 and the county line. It is a major thoroughfare through the Meadow Pointe residential development and is home to public elementary, middle and high schools plus the Porter campus of Pasco-Hernando State College.
The question of tying together Mansfield Boulevard and Kinnan Street has been asked for more than a decade. Red- and white-striped fence barricades, plus several paces of unfinished asphalt, separate the roads. Getting from one spot to the other involves driving 11.2 miles 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 in 2015 after an ambulance crew was slow to aid an injured Tampa man because of the road network. Pasco then agreed to pay for a study of three separate connections: Mansfield to Kinnan; extending Meadow Pointe Boulevard and the future extension of Wyndfields Boulevard.
But, the study's results projected little decline in traffic volumes on Pasco roads even if all three connections were completed. Traffic congestion would be eased in Hillsborough, however. The new routes could take as many as 7,000 vehicles a day off the Hillsborough portion of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard between Cross Creek Boulevard and County Line Road, according to the study. Before a final recommendation, the county also agreed to survey area residents, believing support for the connection was stronger in Tampa than in Pasco.
That assumption was incorrect, according to the survey results shared last week. Killing the connection between Mansfield and Kinnan came even though a majority of those surveyed said they favored the link. Consultant AECOM told the planning board that more than 54 percent of the poll respondents favored both the Manfield-Kinnan link and the southern extension of Meadow Pointe Boulevard.
The poll, open to Pasco residents only, included nearly 1,200 authenticated responses and represented a margin of error of less than 3 percent, the consultant said. The poll tossed nearly 2,000 additional respondents because they didn't complete the surveys or failed to include contact information for address verification.
Despite the safeguards, resident Valerie Mainguy accused Tampa residents of trying to manipulate the poll results to inflate the number of Pasco people favoring of the connection.
"I'm unaware of any dishonest efforts,'' said Tampa City Council chairman Luis Viera who represents the area. "To think that there was some activity by residents of Tampa to influence that, I think, is a little outrageous. If anything I think the 54 percent shows there is support in Pasco County for opening this up. It's a common-sense issue.''
Pasco officials and the residents, however, pointed out that the objectors would have to live with the increased daily traffic, while much of the support came from people living further east in the vicinity of the proposed Wynfields Boulevard extension.
"The people who see that traffic each and every day, they don't want added traffic in that area,'' Commissioner Ron Oakley said about the Mansfield Boulevard link.
In making a formal recommendation, the transportation board agreed to pursue the connections at Meadow Pointe and Wyndfields boulevards for vehicular traffic. The board also said Pasco would finance up to a third of the cost of installing a gate and extending sidewalks so only emergency vehicles and pedestrians could use Mansfield to Kinnan.
"I'm very happy to see some common ground,'' Viera said about allowing access for emergency vehicles. "But there's more work to be done.''
Contact C.T. Bowen at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2.