NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County launched its annual online citizen survey Thursday, giving residents a voice on hot-button issues like the possible gas tax increase and the controversial elevated toll road proposed for State Road 54/56.
County officials say they need a higher gas tax, or some other form of revenue, to pay for road maintenance and construction costs. But last year commissioners failed to get the required four-vote supermajority needed to increase the county’s gas tax by even 1 cent per gallon. This year’s survey tweaks the question, asking respondents to rate whether they would support a gas tax increase starting with 1 cent and going up to 5 cents — or not at all. The county currently charges 7 cents per gallon.
Each additional penny of the tax would cost the average driver about $7.50 a year and would generate about $1.6 million countywide, so a 5-cent increase would cost $37.50 per driver and raise more than $8 million.
The toll road question is titled “S.R. 54/56 Potential Improvement Options for Year 2035.” It goes on to explain that over the next two decades, the state highway will need to be widened beyond its current six-lane configuration — even if the county widens S.R. 52 and County Line Road and builds the Ridge Road extension.
“The opportunities to construct additional parallel roadways as alternatives to improving S.R. 54/56 are limited or non-existent. In addition, Pasco County is not projected to have the density or intensity of land uses to support passenger rail along the S.R. 54/56 corridor,” it reads.
The question gives residents seven options, ranging from buying land to build eight or more lanes along the corridor, or building elevated overpasses at key intersections such as U.S. 41 — similar to U.S. 19 in Pinellas County, keeping the road six lanes and building the elevated toll road in the median, which is the proposal being studied by a private consortium, FL54 Xpress.
Other options include building exclusive bus lanes, accepting highway congestion but increasing the bus service on the corridor and allowing buses to bypass congestion, or buying land to build an east-west freeway through a more rural area of Pasco.
The final choice gives respondents the option of “no additional improvements beyond six lanes to address congestion on 54/56.”
The online survey is a companion to the printed National Citizen Survey, which includes many of the same questions and will be mailed to 1,600 randomly selected households this month. County Administrator Michele Baker said the county usually gets about a 30 percent return rate on the surveys, but even that sample size is large enough to give a statistically valid response.
The surveys also give county officials a good snapshot of the community. It asks respondents questions like how long do they commute to work, when was the last time they walked or rode a bicycle instead of driving, and when was the last time they did a favor for a neighbor.