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Teacher takes show on road

Since 1997, Joanne Hurley has been the voice of the $500-million project.

[Times photo: Janel Schroeder]
Joanne Hurley, spokeswoman for the Suncoast Parkway, talks as she works along the final sections of the 42-mile highway which opens for Saturday's opening ceremony. The parkway opens Sunday to traffic.

By RYAN DAVIS

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 2, 2001


Joanne Hurley still sees herself as a teacher.

Opening weekend schedule
For nearly four years the Suncoast Parkway project spokeswoman, a former elementary school teacher in Hillsborough County, has taken her teaching on the road, literally. Her job: to sell a 42-mile stretch of pavement to the skeptics, both journalists and residents.

"Many classroom teachers don't realize how valuable their skills are outside the classroom," said Hurley, 56. "What you do on the telephone is essentially the same thing.

"You explain things different ways depending on the level of intelligence or level of expertise of the person on the other end."


Since April 1997, Hurley has been the voice of the $500-million four-county project, which is slated to open its southern leg this weekend. Most any tidbit of information about the road has been attached to the phrase "Hurley said."

Essentially, she pitches pavement as positive. And this is the same Hurley who has taken on several preservation causes.

She's the new president of Heritage Park, the group looking to start a historical park in Land O'Lakes. She was also a Pasco County recycling coordinator and a founding board member of Keep Pasco Beautiful Inc.

But Hurley, who settled in Florida in 1979 and lives in Land O'Lakes, insists that her current job is similar to her out-of-work interests. It allows her to travel into largely uncharted territory where there are few tracks ahead of her, she said.

"I have never seen that woman without energy," said Cathryn Ann Rowdon, the executive director of First Call for Help, a non-profit agency that Hurley oversees as board of directors president.

For most of her tenure as a contracted public relations representative of the Florida Department of Transportation, Hurley has worked from a trailer, a portable classroom of sorts, on State Road 52, just west of the Parkway.

From there Hurley, who has a masters of arts degree from the University of South Florida, has answered reporters questions, arranged to speak at civic groups, handled absurd and legitimate complaints and sold the project with much the same passion she uses to describe her grandchildren, Trent and Olivia.

"We encountered a lot of people who never wanted to live near civilization or have neighbors," she said.

They weren't happy to see the road. They complained most vigorously.

A litany more followed:

"The paint fumes smell," "The orange and white construction barrel jumped out at my car" and "The new road blocks my view of the sunset," to name a few.

"I don't take it as a nuisance, I take it as my job," Hurley said.

When the complaints and questions end, so will another chapter of Hurley's career. She expects to be out of work by the end of the year.

"Something always pops up," she said.

She will also need to share "her" parkway with about 9,000 drivers a day who will use the road to commute between Tampa and the counties to the north.

"I had my four-wheel drive vehicle out there since it was no more than a path in the woods," she said.

More than once workers have had to pull her red Jeep Cherokee, and the gold version that replaced it, from the muck.

Her colleagues hung a framed picture on the office wall to prove it. Big yellow machinery in front of the Jeep. The leg of a pushing worker sticking out from behind it. A front tire half engulfed in mud.

She hasn't just taught, she's learned by experience.

"Never drive," she said, "where you don't see tracks ahead of you."

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