NEW PORT RICHEY — After a year of tweaking and nearly $500,000 in consulting fees, Pasco County will resubmit its Ridge Road application next month to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Commissioners last year hired the Washington-based firm Dawson & Associates to help break the gridlock with the Corps of Engineers. The county has tried unsuccessfully for the past 14 years to get its approval to extend Ridge Road, which dead ends at Moon Lake Road, by 8 miles to the Suncoast Parkway and later to U.S. 41.
County Administrator Michele Baker said the consultants, most of whom are retired corps officers, conducted a detailed analysis of 15 alternative routes in hopes of convincing regulators the Ridge Road extension is Pasco’s best solution for improving its traffic flow.
It was clear during the board work session that some commissioners had grown weary of the project and its escalating cost. The county has spent more than $17 million on permitting and right of way for the project, which is projected to cost an additional $76 million to build.
“If it doesn’t work out this time, what happens next?” Commissioner Mike Moore wanted to know.
The county has budgeted $46 million to build the first segment, to the Suncoast Parkway, every year since 2006. Keeping that money in the budget every year has delayed funding for other road projects.
“When you’ve just got money sitting there and not turning over, it’s just not good government,” Commissioner Jack Mariano said. “Maybe we should look at spending it on other projects.”
Opponents view the proposed road through the 6,000-acre Serenova Tract in the Starkey Wilderness Preserve as an intrusion into a delicate wildlife area and a vehicle for overdevelopment. But county officials say it’s a needed alternative as a hurricane evacuation route, since Pasco has only two major east-west roads.
“State Road 54 was flooded and shut down during Tropical Storm Debby,” Baker said. “If the board chooses to stop pursuing Ridge Road, you would be dependent on six lanes at (S.R. 54) and six lanes at (S.R. 52) for all your east-west movement.”
Mariano said if the corps rejects the newest submittal, Pasco should ask the state Department of Transportation to take over the project and build it as a state highway. Baker reminded him that even the state would have to seek a permit from the corps.
“I’d rather have their muscle than our muscle behind it,” he said.