Road ahead paved with hard decisions

A Times Editorial
Published February 22, 2007

Pasco County commissioners could have used a common, roadside message board Tuesday to flash the news to motorists about pending transportation improvements: "Delays ahead."

A $218-million road construction kitty will be exhausted by the end of 2008, and the county still would need $53-million to complete the work it has planned for the next two years.

Wait. (Get used to that word.) It gets worse. The county's five- year road-building plan encompasses 83 projects costing $1.1-billion.

"We can no longer afford to build that program," a county memorandum warned commissioners Tuesday. Figure at least a $200-million shortfall, according to updated state cost estimates.

There is more. New state concurrency laws require counties to identify deficient roads, and Pasco has pinpointed 15, two-thirds of which are state highways. The cure is expected to cost $408-million. The amount of money available over the next five years is estimated at $239-million. That's $169-million unaccounted for.

"Revenue will have to be increased, some projects will have to be delayed and the remaining projects will have to be re-prioritized," the staff's memorandum concludes in an obvious understatement.

Reasonable alternatives are few. Plan on spending more time in traffic and pay more for goods and services as developers pass through higher impact fee costs.

The expense of new road construction is blamed. Here's an example: The ongoing improvement to County Road 54 between Magnolia and Bruce B. Downs boulevards in Wesley Chapel had been budgeted originally at $11-million. The final cost is $16.9-million.

The state Department of Transportation expounded on the details previously: Dirt prices tripled, concrete costs are up 83 percent and the price of asphalt jumped 160 percent.

To compensate, the state announced in December it would delay some Pasco projects, including the widening of two-lane U.S. 41 north of Tower Road in central Pasco. Construction had been scheduled to start in the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2008, but now is delayed two years more.

Pasco commissioners also will have to consider similar decisions in the coming months as they pick which road projects to delay and which funding sources to tap.

The size of a proposed impact fee increase remains under discussion after business community objections to a proposal unveiled last fall. It called for the transportation impact fee per single-family home to more than triple from $3,900 to $13,000 and the fee for commercial buildings to quadruple.

The size of the road fee is worthy of debate; balancing it with a higher gasoline tax is not unreasonable. Commissioners shouldn't shy from this discussion.

Additional road congestion is an unacceptable alternative. Commissioners shouldn't need a flashing message board to deliver that sentiment.