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Pasco MPO keeping elevated toll road an option

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The state’s plan to allow a private company to build an elevated toll road over State Road 54 is crumbling apart, but that doesn’t mean Pasco County is eliminating the concept as a future solution to traffic congestion on the corridor.

The Pasco County Metropolitan Planning Organization will continue to study using a four-lane elevated toll road on S.R. 54 as it updates Pasco’s Long Range Transportation Plan, which anticipates what traffic congestion will look like over the next 25 years.

“The study is ongoing,” MPO transportation engineer Ali Atefi said. “The importance of that project is to be able to preserve the right-of-way now, even if the project isn’t done until 2040.”

Lee Royal, a Florida Department of Transportation adviser to the MPO, said FDOT Secretary Ananth Prasad hasn’t formally rejected the toll road proposal from the FL54-Xpress consortium. “It doesn’t look very promising, but at this point no formal action has taken place,” she said. “It’s just not looking feasible right now.”

The county’s planning staff is looking at several alternative east-west routes, among them Ridge Road, County Line Road, Tower Road and State Road 52. But planners still think an elevated toll road would move traffic more effectively, and they’re betting that it could be more palatable to residents in another 20 or 25 years, after they’ve spent countless hours in stuck in traffic on S.R. 54.

Atefi said the study will include “sensitivity testing” of the various alternative routes. In other words, if the state widens S.R. 52 to six lanes, how many trips would that take off S.R. 54? What if the county widens County Line Road to four lanes? And so on.

Moving forward with those projects could delay the need for a “major improvement” on S.R. 54, but it only postpones the inevitable, he said.

“On (S.R. 54) itself, we’re also going to be looking at different alternatives. One is the alternative nobody likes: the dreaded four-lane elevated road,” he said.

The study also will look at widening S.R. 54 to eight lanes. “With the volume we saw, eight lanes is not going to solve it, and we thought going over eight lanes is something you don’t want to do,” Atefi said. “Because you also have to add in turn lanes, and it just gets unmanageable. It’s really not good planning to go beyond six lanes.”

Zephyrhills City Councilman Lance Smith said the study should consider alternative routes in Hillsborough County. “It seems to me it’s a regional issues since so much of the traffic is coming up from Hillsborough,” he said.

But Atefi corrected him, saying that 90 percent of the trips on S.R. 54 are local. “It’s our issue,” he said.

Leaders of the grassroots Pasco Fiasco group, which organized thousands of toll road opponents, want the elevated highway removed from the county’s Long Range Transportation Plan. They’re still planning a rally May 19 at Sunlake High School.

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