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The future is now for new highways

Planners want to add another east-west artery, Overpass Road, which might eventually have an interchange with I-75.

By JAMES THORNER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 27, 2003

WESLEY CHAPEL - Pasco County is accelerating plans for yet another multimillion-dollar east-west highway to serve the growing suburbs between Wesley Chapel and Zephyrhills.

The county has long-established intentions to build three highways: State Road 56 and Chancey Road extension south of State Road 54 and the West Zephyrhills Bypass north of SR 54.

But development pressure farther north has persuaded Pasco to green-light a fourth east-west route, known as Overpass Road extension.

The 7-mile highway would run between Overpass Road, which now ends east of Interstate 75, to Fort King Road in Zephyrhills.

On the way it would cross Boyette, Curley and Handcart roads and merge with Fairview Heights Road near Zephyrhills.

Jim Polk, the county engineer who manages highway projects, said Overpass is part of a state Department of Transportation plan to relieve traffic on State Roads 52 and 54. DOT suggests creating a fifth Pasco interchange where Overpass crosses I-75 between 54 and 52.

Polk said his boss, Assistant County Administrator Bipin Parikh, told him to place a route study for Overpass "off the back burner and onto the front burner."

"Overpass Road may very well become a major east-west connector. Part of the driving force behind that is we already have an overpass there on I-75. The state could put ramps in there and have an interchange," Polk said.

Among the future developments Overpass would serve is the 1,034 acres belonging to County Commissioner Ted Schrader and his family.

Last week, Schrader's fellow commissioners tentatively approved his family's request to allow the pasture to hold three homes per acre instead of one home per acre.

Pasco's affection for east-west highways in Wesley Chapel hasn't sat well with everyone. One critic is Larry McLaughlin, a former county Planning Commission member who insists the main beneficiaries are developers.

McLaughlin points out that the cost of stringing these highways east of I-75 will run in the tens of million of dollars. Traffic impact fees - the $2,200 each new home pays to build roads - can't cover the costs.

"This should be a matter of concern to all Pasco taxpayers," McLaughlin said.

But Polk insists it's the taxpayers that planners are concerned about when they rush roads to completion.

Engineers and planners have learned from the mistakes of west Pasco, where land is so expensive and development so dense that building roads can be prohibitively costly.

Ridge Road extension, the proposed 8-mile highway east of Moon Lake Road that's supposed to take traffic off State Road 52 and 54, has other problems. It faces lawsuits from environmentalists.

By laying out routes and buying land early before the housing developments appear, property is available at bargain rates, Polk said.

"Yes, we would like to be in front of development for a change than always being in reactive mode," Polk said. "It saves the taxpayers a real large sum of money."

In addition to Overpass Road, here are the three other proposed east-west projects for the Wesley Chapel area:

West Zephyrhills Bypass: The 4-mile highway would start just east of Curley Road and stretch to Eiland Boulevard in Zephyrhills. The county has approved the route, and final design is due by about November.

Chancey Road extension: The 5-mile road will run from Bruce B. Downs Boulevard to Morris Bridge Road. Engineers were forced to reevaluate the route after residents of the Fox Ridge community complained about the project plowing through several of their homes.

State Road 56: Plans call for extending the highway 6 miles east of Bruce B. Downs Boulevard to Morris Bridge Road. The two big landowners along the route, the Porter family and Lee Arnold, are close to a deal that would establish a timetable for construction over the next few years.

Polk warns residents not to be fooled by the orange groves, cattle pasture and cypress swamp north and south of SR 54 in Wesley Chapel. Several years from now, the land will teem with homes and shopping centers.

"People think these roads are a pipe dream," he said. "But it is going to happen."

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