You Paid For It: Pasco road to nowhere has cost $15 million so far

PASCO COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Pasco County Commissioners are hoping an all-out lobbying blitz in Washington D.C. today will finally resolve a road dispute that’s been taking millions of dollars out of your pockets for the past two decades.

“We’re going to get to the finish line,” said Pasco County Administrator Michele Baker. “There is an end in sight.”

Congressman Gus Bilirakis wrote to President Trump last month urging him to help remove roadblocks for the project, and the President himself recently issued an executive order calling for the fast-tracking of infrastructure projects across the nation.

“The bottom line to getting this road done is through the Whitehouse,” said Pasco Commissioner Jack Mariano. “The Commander in Chief can drive this project.”

The Ridge Road Extension dispute pits Pasco leaders pushing for the project as a critically needed hurricane evacuation route against environmental groups who are bent on saving a sensitive wetlands area known as the Serenova Preserve. The proposed highway would bisect the Serenova between new Port Richey, the Suncoast Parkway and US 41.

Pasco County officials have so far allocated nearly $15 million on land purchases, planning and permitting and you paid for all of it.

The trouble is, after 19 years of bureaucratic gear grinding that road is still on the drawing boards and hasn’t received permits from the Army Corps of Engineers. If it ever does get built, the cost of construction for the 8.5 miles east-west Ridge Road Extension will be almost twice as much as originally planned with the estimated price tag at well over $100 million. That’s in addition to the $15 million already spent.

Whatever the coast, Mariano, who is part of the delegation twisting arms in Washington this week, is undeterred. “I’m not going to quit fighting for it,” Mariano said.”Such a crucial project to the economy will help the transportation network of this whole area and it makes sense to get this done.”

“I’m not going to quit fighting for it,” Mariano said.”Such a crucial project to the economy will help the transportation network of this whole area and it makes sense to get this done.”

Does $15 million spent without nothing concrete to show for it sound like a raw deal for taxpayers? Longtime homeowner Joe Holmes sure thinks so. “It’s not too good,” Holmes said. “Not too good.” Holmes still wants the road but can’t understand why it hasn’t already

“It’s not too good,” Holmes said. “Not too good.” Holmes still wants the road but can’t understand why it hasn’t already happened after so much expended time and money. “I want it built for my children,” Holmes said.

“I want it built for my children,” Holmes said.

Pasco County says you can blame the Army Corps of Engineers and pesky environmental groups like the Audubon Society that keep throwing up roadblocks to the extension. Audubon Director of Advocacy Charles Lee calls the project a “boondoggle” and insists that’s why the Army Corps has already rejected the proposal three times. “This preserve was created to provide mitigation for the Suncoast Parkway,” Lee said. “The development industry in Pasco wants to build that road to spur more development.”

“This preserve was created to provide mitigation for the Suncoast Parkway,” Lee said. “The development industry in Pasco wants to build that road to spur more development.”

Like Mariano, Pasco County Administrator Michele Baker insists it’s a battle worth fighting at almost any cost for safety during hurricanes. “If we give up and stop today then Pasco County residents, 178,000 people who live here in the evacuation area, are potentially trapped forever,” Baker said.”All of this grown that is occurring is inevitable and those people need to be accommodated.” Baker claims

“If we give up and stop today then Pasco County residents, 178,000 people who live here in the evacuation area, are potentially trapped forever,” Baker said.”All of this grown that is occurring is inevitable and those people need to be accommodated.” Baker claims

Baker claims there is a need for 20 lanes of evacuation traffic during a hurricane and there are currently just ten on state road 52 and state road 54. Both of those roads run east and west. The proposed Ridge Road Extention would be located equidistant between them.

Lee claims the Ridge Road project is the least viable evacuation route alternative. He says county leaders could easily widen State Road 52 and State Road 54 instead of building another east-west evacuation route linking New Port Richey residents to the Suncoast Parkway and US 41 at the expense of the Serenova Preserve.

Baker insists the latest design now under consideration by the Army Corps includes several elevated sections that would allow water and wildlife to pass through and under the roadway. Baker claims the redesign will allay environmental concerns and lead to a compromise that allows Pasco to move forward with the project. But the Audubon Society remains resolute in its opposition.

“I don’t think the mitigation comes close,” Lee said.

Lee calls the Ridge Road Extension a “boondoggle” promoted as an evacuation route when the real motive is to accommodate land developers.

“The development industry in Pasco wants to build that road to spur more development,” Lee said.

Whatever the motive, you’ve already paid $14.6 million and will have to fork out at least $100 million more even if the Army Corps of Engineers agrees to grant an environmental permit.

Pasco Commissioner Mike Moore has stated he wants to pull the plug if there’s no approval by May. But the commission recently voted to hire some high-powered and expensive Washington lobbyists to keep pushing forward on a month to month fee basis, without any deadline set to kill the project.

“The quality of life is going to improve dramatically by getting this road built,” Mariano said.

He’s counting on the executive power of our new President to make it happen.

Tonight at 6, You Paid For It investigates both sides and takes you on an aerial tour over the road to nowhere. See for yourself where this project leads to and what’s at stake.

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