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Getting from here to there, the new way

Here are answers to the most frequent questions Times readers have asked about the Suncoast Parkway.

By Times staff writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 4, 2001

Many readers have asked about the best route to get to various locations in Tampa. The answers to those questions depend largely on where you live and therefore are difficult to answer.

Keep this in mind: Two of the most popular destinations in Tampa for Hernando and Pasco residents, the Citrus Park Town Center and Tampa International Airport, are right off the Veterans Expressway. Thus, it probably will make sense for many to take the Suncoast Parkway and the Veterans to reach those places.

For other locations, the best advice we can give is to look at a map, try more than one route and decide for yourself which works best.

* * *

Other questions included:

QUESTION: When does the parkway open to the public?

ANSWER: The 32-mile stretch from State Road 50 in Hernando County to the Veterans Expressway in northern Hillsborough County opens at 8 a.m. today. The 10 miles from SR 50 north to U.S. 98, just south of the Hernando-Citrus county line, will open in about six months.

Q. Will there be a free trial period for people using the parkway?

A: Yes. The state Department of Transportation Turnpike District will allow drivers to use the parkway free for two weeks after it opens today. The grace period may be extended several weeks along some stretches, partly because some toll booths are still not complete.

Q: Is there a monthly or yearly pass I can purchase if I plan to use the parkway frequently? How many trips do I have to make for it to pay off? How do I go about getting a pass?

A: For frequent users of the parkway, the Turnpike District is selling something called the SunPass. It speeds up the process of going through toll plazas on the parkway. Motorists can establish accounts in any amount with the Turnpike District for a SunPass. Drivers with passes receive a 10 percent discount after spending $40 in any month on tolls. For information, call (888) 865-5352.

Q: Will there be any special tolls for people with disabilities?

A: No.

Q: Why is there a toll to use the parkway?

A: To pay for the road. The payments on the 30-year bonds issued to finance the parkway come to $28.7-million annually. According to state law, tolls must pay for at least half of this amount after five years and 100 percent after 15 years.

Q: Who will provide emergency services along the parkway route?

A: Either the Florida Highway Patrol or the nearest sheriff's office or rescue service. Drivers who encounter an emergency on the road should call 911 or *FHP on their cell phones.

Q: What is the speed limit on the parkway?

A: Sixty-five miles per hour, except as the highway approaches the southern terminus at the Veterans Expressway, where it drops to 55 mph. Also, in the weeks after the road opens, there still will be some construction zones, where the limit will also be 55 mph.

Q: Are there any future plans to connect the parkway with Interstate 75?

A: There are no plans to extend the parkway to I-75, though the DOT has considered long-range plans to build an expressway between the two highways through southern Hernando County or northern Pasco.

Q: When does the hiking/biking trail along the parkway open?

A: Today, only 21 miles of the trail from State Road 50 in Hernando County to the proposed Ridge Road exit in Pasco County will open. The 8 miles south of that, to the trail's southern trailhead at Lutz-Lake Fern Road in northern Hillsborough County will open as soon as remaining paving and landscaping work is completed. The northern 10 miles, from SR 50 to U.S. 98, is due to open in November 2002.

Q: What activities are permitted and prohibited on the trail?

A: No motorized vehicles or horses are allowed. Just about everything else is, including walking, running, bike riding, skating and scooter riding. Individual counties, though, will be allowed to establish additional rules, and Hernando County will ban pets, according to Dennis Dix, the county's transportation planning coordinator.

Q: If I want to use the hiking/biking trail, where can I park?

A: The only state trailheads are near State Road 50 in Hernando County and State Road 54 in Pasco, and parking is available at both locations.

Q: Can I get from the Anderson Snow Sports Complex in Hernando County to the trail?

A: Pretty soon. Hernando County is building a connecting trail, expected to be finished later this year.

Q: Will there be drinking fountains or any other facilities along the trail?

A: Maybe in the future, if Hernando or Pasco counties decide to build them.

Q: Who will maintain the trail, and what type of maintenance will be provided? Will there be any security provided along the trail?

A: There will be no security. The counties will maintain the pathway, but as a rural and not an urban trail. Unlike the Pinellas Trial, for example, which is swept every day, the Suncoast trail likely will have some debris, such as pine needles and acorns. In-line skaters and skateboarders, especially, should keep an eye out for these obstacles.

Q: Is use of the trail limited to specific hours?

A: Yes, from 30 minutes before dawn to 30 minutes after dusk.

Q: Will the Suncoast Parkway ever be completed into Citrus County?

A: Maybe. The state Department of Transportation has not completed plans for the project, though the state recently boosted the funding to accelerate the process. There is strong opposition from some citizens groups in Citrus County.

Q: Are maps available showing the parkway?

A: Yes. Brochures, with maps, will be available at the toll plazas.

Q: Is there a phone number I can call to get more information about the parkway?

A: Yes. Call (727) 867-9933 for the Turnpike District office in Pasco County.

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