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Boom in youth will ripple onto roads

Median ages in west Pasco are dropping, the census shows, and the younger the residents are, the more they drive.

By MATTHEW WAITE

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 11, 2001


HOLIDAY -- Joe Jankowski is reminded of the change his Beacon Square neighborhood has undergone in the past 10 years by watching kids cut through his yard.

When he drives in the morning, there are a lot more cars on the roads, making him wait longer at stop signs along Moog Road. And there are a lot more children walking to school on roads without sidewalks.

That needs to change, he said.

"With the change, you've got to change the roads," Jankowski said. "We're just waiting for an accident to happen."

In the past 10 years, young people have transformed a handful of once elderly areas of west Pasco County. The median age in four places in west Pasco has dropped so much -- nearly 15 years -- that it has surprised government and commercial planners, who expected more modest declines.

Such a shift in age of those living in Beacon Square, Holiday, Elfers and Jasmine Estates goes beyond seeing more kids playing in the neighborhoods. Planners predict the increase in youth will mean more demand for parks, and the school district has already seen a jump in new students.

But one change -- the last thing people who live near U.S. 19 want to hear -- not immediately visible will be more traffic.

Put simply, younger people drive more than older people. According to a nationwide government survey of drivers that is used by transportation planners, people older than 65 take one fewer trip per day in a car on average than those under 65 (3.4 trips on average compared with 4.6 for others in 1995, the most recent year available).

"Roads are going to be a big, big problem," said Bill Munz, a planner with Pasco County's Growth Management office.

Teens drive more, going who knows where. Families drive more. Trips to work. Trips to the grocery store, to schools, to soccer practice, to dance recitals.

In the past decade on U.S. 19 at the Pinellas County line, the average daily traffic measured by the State Department of Transportation has gone from 35,721 cars per day in 1991 to 54,000 in 1999. To the north, both Alt. 19 and Trouble Creek Roads have seen more modest increases as their average daily traffic counts topped 62,500 vehicles a day by 1999, the most recent year available.

The age bracket of those who will be getting driver's licenses in the next five years has been among the fastest growing age groups in neighborhoods along U.S. 19 -- ranking right behind their young parents.

In Beacon Square, the median age in 1990 was 67; it's now 51. Two in every 10 homes in the area has a child 18 and younger in the house, nearly double what it was in 1990. The number of kids ages 10-14 has also nearly doubled in 10 years, from 152 in 1990 to 292 in 2000.

In Holiday, the median age dropped from 63 to 48.5, with the number of households with kids 18 and younger rising 64 percent. Now one in five houses there has a child in the household. The number of kids 10-14 grew 90 percent, with 1,039 reported in 2000.

In Jasmine Estates, the median age dropped from 61.6 in 1990 to 46 in 2000. The number of houses with children 18 and younger went up 51 percent, with nearly one-quarter of all homes now having a child under their roofs. The number of kids ages 10-14 grew 62 percent, with 987 now in the area.

Munz said to try and offset some of the impact on the roads, planners could try and steer construction of services people need -- grocery stores, retail, government services -- in places they aren't now, more or less creating a new town center away from U.S. 19.

"You're going to have to either improve a bunch of roads or make a new town," Munz said. "It would be a long row to hoe, but it may pan out," he said.

Doug Uden, the county's transportation planner, said that apart from potential increases in traffic, the real impact on the roads might be felt when the traffic is out. Younger people are usually working or going to school, putting them on the roads earlier in the morning and later in the afternoon than retirees.

The peak hours in west Pasco are different from other places, Uden said. "It used to be the peak hour was 2:30 in the afternoon. (Age changes) might change things.

"You could have the same number of people and with the age change . . . you could have more people in the peak hours.

"That could cause problems."

Roads won't be the only places that feel the change.

The school district has felt it, building 10 schools in west Pasco since 1994. But with a limited stock of housing, school district planners expect the west Pasco child boom to level off, and the demand will shift to central Pasco, where new construction is fueling growth.

Neighborhoods built as retirement areas tend to have fewer sidewalks, parks or libraries, presenting county planners with a whole different set of growth management problems than the more publicized growth in the central part of the county. In built-up west Pasco, open land for parks isn't easy to find, and roads are surrounded with homes.

Instead of shuffleboard courts, neighborhoods will have to start thinking about baseball fields and playgrounds, Uden said.

"In Pasco County, a lot of the neighborhoods are going to have to start thinking about what kind of services you offer," Uden said.

- Staff writer Matthew Waite can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6247 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6247.


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