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  1. Pasco

Wesley Chapel-to-New Tampa road link remains in doubt

Pasco County plans a public opinion poll next year to ask where it should connect the local road network in Wesley Chapel with streets in neighboring Tampa and Hillsborough County.

The early results already are in: Linking Mansfield Boulevard in the Meadow Point neighborhood to Kinnan Street in Tampa "makes absolutely no sense for Pasco residents,'' said Pasco Commissioner Mike Moore.

His sentiment was echoed by eight speakers from Wesley Chapel who attended last week's Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting in Dade City to object to the connection. They said increased traffic would be unsafe for children attending three schools on Mansfield, make navigating their own Meadow Pointe neighborhood more difficult and potentially reduce property values.

The commentary came as the Planning Organization — made up of county commissioners and elected officials from Pasco's four largest cities — listened to the results of a preliminary study on three potential links between New Tampa and Wesley Chapel.

The study, first presented seven months ago to a public workshop, projected little decline in traffic volumes on Pasco roads even if three connections are made at Mansfield, Meadow Pointe and Wyndfields boulevards.

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.

"That's just kind of a given if you make the connections. People will come up'' from Hillsborough, said Meghan McKinney of AECOM, which conducted the study on Pasco's behalf.

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. At the time, Moore was supportive of the idea, but since has reversed his position.

Besides the public safety question, a new issue arose this year. The Tampa City Council recently approved expanding the nearby K Bar Ranch neighborhood by 700 homes.

"I feel for the residents of K Bar, but that's not our problem,'' said Michael Kaufman of the Meadow Pointe 2 development. "They're creating the problem; it's not up to us to solve it.''

The MPO did little to advance the issue. By the end of the public hearing, the nine-member board lacked a quorum after three members departed and two others didn't attend at all. Those who stayed, including Commissioner Jack Mariano and Zephyrhills City Council member Lance Smith, voiced support for the residents' concerns.

"Personally, right now, I would lean toward not opening (Mansfield) at all. Normally, I'm all for connecting and connectivity,'' said Smith. "This will impact quality of life for these residents with no gain.''

Under a tentative schedule, the public opinion polling will occur in the coming months, with a final MPO recommendation slated for the summer.

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

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