NEW PORT RICHEY — The Urban Land Institute report this month criticizing Pasco County’s plans for an elevated toll road along State Road 54/56 has put the future of the project in jeopardy.
The Florida Department of Transportation was set to open bids for the $2 billion project Wednesday afternoon but canceled the bid opening that morning and extended the deadline six weeks after the original bidder expressed concerns over the ULI report.
The ULI panel cautioned Pasco against building an elevated freeway, noting that several cities — Seattle, New Orleans and Louisville — are replacing their elevated highways with ground-level boulevards. “It’s not something you want to rush into,” warned Charles Long, an Oakland-based developer who was co-chairman of the panel.
International Infrastructure Partners withdrew its original unsolicited proposal, which had prompted FDOT to open the project to competitive bids. IIP partner Wayne Middleton wrote that the ULI report “has made the (local) political climate unfavorable” even though the contract would be with the state. Pasco County Administrator Michele Baker said that in light of the ULI recommendation, which came out just two weeks ago, it makes sense to hit the pause button on the project. “It does require political support and community support to do a project like this,” she said. “We haven’t even had a chance to sit down and talk about these reports and look at the concerns they raised.”
Middleton also voiced concerns over the county’s 10-year transit plan, which calls for managed bus lanes in the S.R. 54 corridor. “Given these reasons and the anticipated additional cost to build, IIP and its partners need additional time and clarity from all parties affected as well as those parties that will benefit from our proposal,” he wrote.
IIP founder Jerry Stanley told the Tribune his company still plans to submit a bid in December but needs extra time to revise it in light of the new information.
If built, the toll road would span the entire 33-mile State Road 54/56 corridor from New Port Richey to Zephyrhills. It would be the first privately funded and operated toll road in Florida and would be the first segment of an outer perimeter for the Tampa Bay area.
Pasco County Commission Chairman Ted Schrader said the delay “could be a telling sign that the elevated freeway may not come to fruition.” He said the ULI panel forced him to rethink his support for the concept.
“When we get the final report, our board is going to have to re-evaluate if it’s something we want to pursue,” Schrader said.
Baker said Pasco officials would be willing to meet with IIP, or any prospective bidders, before the Dec. 9 deadline. “There has to be a dialogue with the community, so let’s have that dialogue sooner rather than later.”