Pasco planning critical road interchange
WESLEY CHAPEL - Trace a line with your finger from east to west across the middle of Pasco County, and eventually you'll end up where Overpass Road crosses Interstate 75. On the way, your finger will cut through Pasadena Hills -- acre upon acre of agricultural land that decades from now could house tens of thousands of new residents. Faced with the prospect of all those future commuters clogging State Road 54, county officials have begun work on another option: a new interchange at Overpass Road and I-75. The work is just beginning.The county is six months into a two-year study making a case for the interchange. A final decision from the Federal Highway Administration is likely years away. Construction would be even further off, said James Edwards, head of the county's transportation planning agency. "There's no done deal here in terms of moving through the process," Edwards said. All those caveats aren't keeping east Pasco landowners from dreaming of the future, though. Andy Spada's Wildcat Groves straddles the interstate just north of Overpass Road. He has already promised the Department of Transportation about 45 acres for on- and off-ramps. And he has drawn up plans to build apartments and shopping where his groves now stand. An interchange will be key to developing the area between S.R. 54 and S.R. 52 - the county's only east-west roads, Spada said. "We're pushing the heck out of it," he said. Demographers predict Pasco County will balloon to 1 million residents over the next 50 years. Development planned between I-75 and U.S. 301 will one day choke the local highway network if the Overpass Road interchange doesn't get built, supporters say, wasting the millions of dollars the county and state are now spending to make S.R. 54 six lanes. Pasco County already has approved decades worth of unbuilt housing. So Commissioner Ted Schrader knows the interchange project could open the county to more criticism from development opponents. But the growth is coming, like it or not, he said. "All we're trying to do is plan accordingly," Schrader said. "I think it's proper to plan that way." Environmentalists worry the Overpass Road interchange could open the door to a road being built across the Cypress Creek Wellfield, eventually connecting with where the planned Ridge Road extension would meet U.S. 41. But Schrader doubts environmental regulators would sign off on a road through the wellfield's sensitive lands. "I severely doubt Pasco County could get the Army Corps of Engineers to approve building Overpass Road across Cypress Creek Wellfield," Schrader said. Rather, Schrader sees the interchange giving east Pasco and northwest Polk more direct interstate access. "I really don't see it extending west of Old Pasco Road," he said.
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