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Number of vehicles on parkway falls short of state's projections

Ridership lags expectations on the Suncoast Parkway, but the figure is not as bad as it appears, an official says.

By DAN DeWITT

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 13, 2001


In late June, the Suncoast Parkway was attracting about 40 percent fewer riders per day than the daily average the state projected for its first year.

The Turnpike District of the state Department of Transportation anticipated an average of 13,200 cars or trucks per day would pass through the Spring Hill toll plaza in northern Pasco County, said project spokeswoman Joanne Hurley. During a one-week test period in late June, the daily average was 7,700.

The forecast figure for the Anclote plaza in southern Pasco was 17,600; actual average ridership during the test was 10,500.

The ridership numbers are the first released by the Turnpike District since it began charging tolls. No tolls were charged for several weeks after the parkway opened in early February.

For several reasons, the numbers are not nearly as bad as they look, Hurley said.

The predictions assumed that the entire 42-mile first phase of the parkway would be completed. But the northernmost 10-mile stretch in Hernando is still under construction and will not be completed until August.

"All those folks from Citrus would probably add another 2,000 cars per day," Hurley said.

Also, the projected estimates are for the average daily use throughout the first year. But summer months are historically the slowest of the year for turnpike-project use throughout the state, she said.

In addition, the test week came slightly more than a month after all of the toll booths were open. Ridership figures typically dip shortly after the district begins charging to use the roads and then climb steadily for the rest of the year.

"We know the system continues to ramp up and gain ridership throughout that first year," Hurley said.

She also said that more people were using Veterans Expressway in Hillsborough County than had been anticipated, so total ridership on the entire system is exceeding projections by about 20 percent.

"These are pretty good numbers," she said.

But Hurley did acknowledge that low ridership on the Suncoast Parkway had contributed to a decision to remove toll collectors at the booths at County Line Road. They had previously been staffed, as the other ramp booths are, from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. weekdays.

At County Line, and during off hours at the other plazas, the Turnpike District will trust riders to place a quarter in the basket if they have one, Hurley said.

"The turnpike system is built on the fact that we think most people are honest most of the time," she said.

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