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Troopers: We’ve got it covered


© St. Petersburg Times, published February 2, 2001

When the Suncoast Parkway opens this weekend, area law enforcement agencies will be ready to take on any increased traffic problems, crashes and speeding violations, they said.

Opening weekend schedule
Although the Florida Highway Patrol will be the lead agency handling emergency calls, other agencies in Pasco and Hernando have offered to lend a hand.

"We're very prepared," said Trooper Jacqueline Freeman, patrol spokeswoman. "And we can always turn to the other agencies, just like they turn to us."

The job of handling crashes and doling out tickets falls primarily to the patrol because the parkway is a state road. The agency recently added a new trooper who will work out of Pasco County and another who will patrol Hernando County. Freeman said the additional staffing was the result of a longstanding request for more personnel that just happened to coincide with the opening of the toll road.

"We've needed new troopers; that's no secret," Freeman said. "And as more roads are built across the state, they're going to have to add even more."

In terms of emergency medical and fire services, Pasco County Fire Rescue will handle all calls in its county. In Hernando, Spring Hill Fire Rescue will handle incidents south of Powell Road, and Hernando County Fire Rescue will answer emergencies north of Powell.

But it's not that everyone is sure the need for such services will grow significantly right away. Although authorities acknowledge that the parkway will mean more work for them in the long run, some predict little change at first.

"How far the Suncoast Parkway is going to be traveled has yet to be seen," said Tony Lopinto, chief of Pasco County Fire Rescue. "We're probably going to see more action than we usually see, and it will probably be the cause for more traffic accidents. But there's no cause for alarm."

He added that the real crunch will occur years from now, after the parkway causes more people to move to Pasco and Hernando and new residents clog the streets on the way to and from work.

Spring Hill Fire Chief Michael Morgan is more optimistic. He predicted that the parkway will bring new traffic, but that it might make other areas safer that now are burdened with too many cars, too much construction and multiple traffic signals that people miss or deliberately run.

"It may really help because it will reduce the congestion on other roads," Morgan said.

That would be music to the ears of local police and sheriff's offices.

"We're willing to assist, of course, when needed," Hernando County Sheriff Richard Nugent said of the parkway. "But we've got our hands full with our own county roads."

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