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Counties, DOT struggle to find solution for County Line Road

A scaled-back state proposal to widen the road to six lanes still has a $110.6-million price tag, more than double the original estimate.

By JENNIFER FARRELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 26, 2001


The price for widening County Line Road could be slashed by nearly $8.5-million, according to estimates released this week by the state Department of Transportation.

By squeezing the project from a planned six lanes to four, state transportation officials reported the cost could be as low as $110.6-million, compared with an earlier appraisal, which came in at just more than $119-million.

But Hernando County officials were underwhelmed at the savings, noting that the cheaper option would still cost more than double what was originally projected, and its scaled-back design would prove difficult for future expansion to six lanes, as is widely agreed will be necessary to accommodate growth over the next two decades.

Meanwhile, long-term plans for Hernando and Pasco counties, which would share the costs 60-40 according to a formula that reflects the share of growth each expects along the road, don't include nearly enough money for the project.

Chris Kingsley, chairman of the Hernando County Commission and the Metropolitan Planning Organization, said the cost could likely force the project to stall.

"I'm really not sure it can proceed at that price, to be honest," he said. "I'm not sure if people in Hernando and, of course, Pasco are interested in investing that kind of money in that road."

Initially, planners estimated that the cost to create a four-lane divided highway with a bike trail, sidewalks and all the amenities from U.S. 41 to U.S. 19 would be about $50-million. But after crunching the numbers, the Florida Department of Transportation came back with the more sobering $119-million estimate.

When leaders in Hernando and Pasco sent them back to the drawing board to find less extravagant options, three ideas emerged.

The first is a more typical suburban highway with 50 mph limits costing $116.7-million; the second would be a more narrow, urban model with a 45 mph limit, costing $112.8-million. Both would allow for expansion up to six lanes with bike lanes, but no separate trail.

The third, and cheapest option at $110.6-million, would be an even more narrow urban model that state DOT project manager Mike Seifert said would be difficult to expand.

Seifert said the department will hold public hearings on the alternatives in the fall and winter.

Meanwhile, Hernando and Pasco are in the process of updating their long-range plans, a job that will be finished this summer. Once the updates are done, Pasco County Transportation Coordinator Doug Uden said, officials will be in better position to make decisions.

"Do you have enough money to do it? I don't know," he said. "It's just one of those things that has to be worked out."

One way or another, according to Kingsley, the road needs attention.

"County Line Road's going to be a pain. There's no two ways about it," he said. "Eventually, we're going to have to bite the bullet and take care of it."

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