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Forum helps map future transportation needs

By DAN DeWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 6, 2001


WEEKI WACHEE -- Residents might support spending more money to accommodate walkers and bike riders.

They firmly support the system of frontage roads, which has been compromised several times in recent years, and they want to fix trouble spots including County Line Road and the congested intersection at Spring Hill Drive and Mariner Boulevard.

This was some of the information gathered at a forum Thursday to help planners draw up Hernando's long-range transportation plan. This plan will attempt to anticipate every aspect of the county's transportation needs until 2025; the state requires each Metropolitan Planning Organization to update these plans every five years.

The forum, held at the Bank of America building just east of Weeki Wachee, was formally called a consensus-building workshop. And, said County Commissioner Mary Aiken, it generally lived up to its name.

"It was a relatively agreeable session," she said.

And, though it was not open to all the public, MPO staffers made an effort to invite people with a wide range of interests in the county, including landowners, county commissioners and representatives of trucking companies and civic groups.

Despite this wide range of participation, the group agreed on several issues, said Bob Wallace, of Tindale Oliver and Associates Inc., the Tampa consultant the county has hired to help update the long-range plan.

In a series of discussions, the participants agreed on several intersections that need improvement: State Road 50 and Cobb Road, Spring Hill Drive and Mariner, Ponce de Leon Boulevard and Jefferson Street, and several intersections on U.S. 19.

Among the roads that need widening: County Line and some stretches of Spring Hill Drive.

Wallace and Dennis Dix, the county's transportation planning coordinator, acknowledged that some of these discussions were more relevant to short-term than long-range planning. In many cases the county or state already has made provisions to address these problems.

State Rep. David Russell, R-Brooksville, for example, is trying to secure state money to improve County Line Road.

But, Wallace said, some of the issues would have implications in the more distant future.

For example, he said, participants urged the county to begin acquiring right of way for future projects now rather than later, to take advantage of relatively cheap land values.

When the 19 participants split into four groups, Wallace said, they all advocated spending very similar percentages on different transportation needs: about 80 percent for roads, 5 percent each for bicycle and pedestrian facilities, and 10 percent for public transportation.

Though this would mean the focus is mostly on roads, it means more money for alternate forms of transportation than current spending levels.

"We also got some specific policy direction when the public emphasized the need for frontage roads," Wallace said.

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