NEW PORT RICHEY — With just a week to go before bids are due for a private toll road in Pasco County, commissioners will vote Tuesday on whether to support the concept of the elevated highway along the State Road 54/56 corridor.
International Infrastructure Partners, headed by Lutz engineer Jerry Stanley, submitted an unsolicited bid in June to the Florida Department of Transportation to lease the road right-of-way so his company could build and operate the 33-mile toll road stretching from U.S. 19 to U.S. 301, just south of Zephyrhills.
The DOT issued a public request for competing proposals, but IIP withdrew it’s original offer in October, citing worries about local political support.
Richard Gehring, the county’s growth management administrator, said DOT District Seven Secretary Paul Steinman wanted commissioners to demonstrate whether they support the project before going forward. Both state and local officials were sold on the concept as the best and most affordable method for handling future traffic needs until a panel of planning experts advised the county not to build an elevated highway.
The Urban Land Institute has yet to issue its final report, but the initial warnings were enough to cause some commissioners to rethink their support. Panel Chairman Charles Long said major cities across the United States were in the process of removing elevated highways.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said she still supports the project and plans to vote for the supporting resolution. “I’ve done a little more research since then. In looking at the instances they were talking about, they are not the same,” she said. “They were talking about elevated highways right in the middle of downtowns. The alternative — for the county to build 20 lanes along State Road 54 — doesn’t work for me.”
Commissioner Ted Schrader said he could argue both sides. “We’re going to have that discussion to see if there is consensus,” he said. “I think there needs to be unanimous support for this to go forward.”
Commissioner Henry Wilson, who chairs the county’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, said he no longer supports the proposal. “A majority of the board said we needed to bring ULI (Urban Land Institute), and ULI said not to do it because other cities were taking theirs down. I think it’s bad for local businesses. The only positive for it is it will help Hillsborough and Pinellas drivers; that’s not a priority for me,” he said.