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Column

Commission cops out by catering to crowd

By JEFF WEBB
Published January 15, 2006


The Hernando County commissioners made a wrong turn last week when they rejected their transportation planners' advice to build a frontage road that would run parallel to State Road 50 and cross the entrance of Brookridge.

Pardon my second pun, but we've been down this road before.

Less than six months after a majority of the commissioners pledged their allegiance to building more frontage roads to ease traffic on major commercial arteries such as SR 50 and U.S. 19, they agreed Tuesday that such a road in front of this manufactured home community was not a good idea.

The commissioners claimed they were worried about safety at the intersection of SR 50 and Brookridge Central Boulevard, which is opposite Barclay Avenue. They instructed their staff to beg the state Department of Transportation for permission to install a traffic light on SR 50 at Grove Road and postponed their final decision until March 8.

I think they were concerned less about protecting motorists at that intersection than they were in protecting their political backsides.

You have to hand it to Brookridge residents, who rallied a standing-room-only crowd to oppose the proposed frontage road; they were savvy enough to know that a show of force is all they needed to get their way. They've seen that formula for success many times. Storm the commission chambers! Clap when someone on your side speaks! Boo and grumble if the speaker dissents!

Such mob mentality is not just bad manners, it's bad governance, and it's about time our commissioners - or their replacements - evolved beyond bowing to such parochial pressure.

The commissioners did a good job of looking out for the 5,000-plus people in Brookridge. But what about the tens of thousands who drive that stretch of SR 50? If this frontage road is not built, those motorists will be forced to endure "parking lot mode," which is the term one of the county's professional planners used to describe the traffic nightmare of gridlock.

SR 50 already is overburdened. The state says the volume of traffic exceeds their recommended standards. During peak hours, about 3,500 cars go past Brookridge every hour. County government is limiting development on the road from U.S. 19 to Wiscon Road. Clearly, this proposal for a frontage road was a sensible way to take some traffic off SR 50. It also was consistent with the the county's comprehensive growth management plan, which stipulates using frontage roads and existing signalized intersections to prevent a hodgepodge approach to development.

But none of that matters to the commissioners when they are staring into the faces of voters, who eagerly await the pandering to which they have become accustomed.

This is an example of the pitiful reality of our political system: For all but a rare few, the number one priority for politicians is to be re-elected.

We need elected representatives who will look out for the majority of their constituents and the long-range welfare of the county, even when faced with the adversity (gasp!) of an unfriendly crowd.

We need public servants who will be consistent in the application of their policies and regulations, and not allow protesting pockets of the populace to sway them from their broader mission.

We need ... well, real leaders. Leaders with foresight. Leaders with courage. Leaders who will stand up for what is right, be accountable and accept the consequences of their decisions, and not look upon public service as a popularity contest.

If the commissioners could count cars the way they count votes, our county's transportation future would be much brighter.

But unless they rediscover the commitment they made last August to rely almost exclusively on frontage roads to lessen traffic congestion, every motorist who drives - oh, so slowly - past Brookridge will suffer the fallout of their indecision.

Reach Jeff Webb at webb@sptimes.com or 352 754-6123.

[Last modified January 15, 2006, 01:47:20]


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