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Big-rigs back on county roads?

A new plan could allow trucks to return to rural highways, but with tighter restrictions.

© St. Petersburg Times,
published December 9, 2001

KEYSTONE -- Anybody who travels winding rural roads, such as Gunn Highway, knows how intimidating big trucks can be -- and how dangerous.

"They always get behind me on the curves," said Jean Carson, who lives in Citrus Park. "I look in my rearview mirror and all I see is a grille."

That's why county commissioners six years ago drafted a plan to get big rigs off more than half the county-owned roads. Under the plan, trucks could enter the county only on certain designated routes, such as Van Dyke Road and the Suncoast Parkway.

Now, however, county transportation official Bill McCall wants to modify the plan. He contends that the new routes are not working, and that, in many, cases they are causing truckers to go miles out of their way.

He offered the example of an excavation site on Morris Bridge Road, less than half a mile into Pasco County. Because of the trucking rule, "truckers have to go back north to State Road 54 to Bruce B. Downs, over to Interstate 75 and then to Morris Bridge, making it a 25-mile trip instead a half-mile trip."

"It's led to some undesirable results," he said. Truckers have to "come in on Bruce B. Downs, to Cross Creek, to Morris Ridge, which takes them through new subdivisions when they could just go on Morris Bridge Road."

So it's back to the drawing board. This Tuesday, McCall will ask county commissioners to scrap the plan and once again allow trucks access to all county roads.

There would, however, be some controls. Truckers would have to go directly to their destinations, for example. And when leaving those destination, truckers would be required to return on the same route.

McCall said he knows there will be fallout, especially from people in northwest Hillsborough who fought for truck route plan.

"It's been a sore spot for some time," he said. "They have trucks coming into the county down Gunn."

In fact, Keystone residents' complaints about noise and traffic along the Veterans Expressway construction sites helped push the truck route plan through in the first place.

Scrapping the truck route plan "would be a huge mistake," said Keystone resident Laura Swain. "There are truck routes all over this country to protect communities. Keystone will need more protection not less as Pasco starts developing so much."

Major truck routes in northwest Hillsborough include Tarpon Springs and Van Dyke Roads, Dale Mabry Highway, Veterans Expressway and Suncoast Parkway.

The rule prohibited trucks from using the two miles between Tarpon Springs Road and the Pasco County line once the Suncoast Parkway was opened.

But Hillsborough County Sheriff's motorcycle unit Deputy Dominick DeSiato said big-rig traffic on Gunn has barely diminished since Gunn was taken off the the truck route nearly nine months ago. More construction, he said, has brought more trucks.

"It all kind of came together at the same time; road improvements and apartments and houses are being built in the area," he said.

DeSiato said most of the trucks on Gunn are there on legitimate business and that he has written only five citations in the past six months. Failure to obey route signs carries a $90 fine.

As they reconsider the truck route plan in the northwest, county commissioners also will be asked to look at routes in the Brandon area.

"Before trucks could enter anywhere they wanted," McCall said. "We want to go back to that, but with some restrictions. They can enter, but they have to go straight to their destination, or to a truck route."

- Jackie Ripley can be reached at (813) 269-5308.

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