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S.R. 54-56 elevated road concept could get endorsement


NEW PORT RICHEY — A concept for an elevated toll road along much of S.R. 54-S.R. 56 corridor could get an official endorsement from Pasco County commissioners on Tuesday.

A Tampa-based company, International Infrastructure Partners, has proposed building the above-ground lanes from U.S. 19 in the Holiday area to Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, the gateway to the New Tampa area and points south, as a way to alleviate traffic congestion.

The managed-lanes concept generated some excitement among Pasco government and business leaders until October, when Urban Land Institute advisers visited the county to make long-term economic development recommendations. The ULI team strongly advised against the project, saying elevated highways are being replaced by ground-level roadways in other parts of the country.

That prompted Pasco County Administrator Michele Baker to call for a reassessment of the project. in response the Florida Department of Transportation wants Pasco County to adopt a resolution backing the idea before the state agency proceeds any further.

The County Commission is scheduled to consider the resolution at its meeting at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 3, at the West Pasco Government Center, 8731 Citizens Drive.

“The S.R. 54/56 Corridors have been under evaluation since 2008 in order to identify and refine both highway and transit improvement alternatives,” James Edwards, Pasco transportation planning manager, wrote in a Nov. 22 memo to commissioners.

Improvements to these corridors were identified in the 2008 Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority Master Plan, Edwards added about express bus service along managed lanes. The Pasco Metropolitan Planning Organization adopted the TBARTA long-range improvements in 2009.

At this point, county officials are intrigued by the elevated toll road concept enough to study it more. Areas of interest include cost, toll revenue, environmental impacts and the possibility of a public-private partnership to undertake the project.

Now six lanes along much of its route, S.R. 54-56 nonetheless could one day become swamped by traffic, experts believe.

The MPO’s 2035 long-range plan “substantiated the need for up to 20 travel lanes” along some segments of the highway, the draft of the FDOT-requested county resolution reads in part.

FDOT completed an evaluation earlier this year 2013 that recommended an elevated, managed-lane alternative “as the most practical alternative for the corridor,” the resolution continues.

County leaders believe the elevated toll road would improve access, ease bicycle and pedestrian traffic, aid in hurricane evacuation and provide for express transit.

“Elevated, toll-managed lanes will ensure that travelers from outside Pasco County pay their fair share of addressing the congestion that they contribute to,” the resolution says.

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