Pasco city right to challenge pushy DOT
November 19, 2009
Zephyrhills is no longer a sleepy little town predominantly known as an escape from the brutal winters of the North and Midwest.
With more than 12,500 full-time residents, it is Pasco County's second-largest city, one with a thriving airport and leaders who are sensitive to the needs of locally owned businesses trying to compete with big-box retailers and regional shopping malls.
The need to protect - and strengthen - the city's economy and future is why Zephyrhills officials are right to oppose a state Department of Transportation traffic-routing plan. The plan would harm the downtown area and jeopardize economic development and redevelopment initiatives.
As we've said before, this is a textbook case of a collision of missions along the state's major roads - in this instance, heavily traveled U.S. 301, known as Gall Boulevard, through the heart of the city.
The city's needs and functions should take priority over the DOT's mission to move traffic.
DOT wants to turn Gall Boulevard into a one-way road northbound in the direction of Dade City for about two miles, through and past the downtown area, to relieve congestion. All southbound traffic would be routed to 6th Street, which is already one-way, and connects to State Road 54.
That stretch of Gall, and 6th, eventually would be widened.
Unquestionably, on many days traffic along this stretch of U.S. 301 is congested. But DOT's suggestion that, years down the road, it would take motorists 45 minutes to travel 1 mile is laughable to locals and others who frequent the area.
Traffic conditions are not unbearable, and the current transportation options, while not great, are adequate. The city has a couple of bypasses, as well as back roads, so motorists can avoid tough spots. One downtown road, Seventh Street, easily allows motorists to bypass part of the troubled stretch of U.S. 301.
The $70 million that DOT plans to allocate for the project is certainly not worth jeopardizing the city's economy and future.
Last week, Zephyrhills officials passed a resolution that DOT should adhere to. They want to meet with DOT Secretary Stephanie Kopelousos to work out a solution. They want Sixth Street and U.S. 301 to be widened and turn lanes added.
The requests are reasonable and would help Zephyrhills, not harm it as the one-way proposal would do.
DOT shouldn't continue to suggest that it will simply allocate the $70 million for another project, elsewhere, if it doesn't get its way. Nor should it ram the project down the city's throat. That's not working with the city. A respectable engineering firm, Kimley-Horn, already has said the city's proposal would work.
DOT officials who insist on their plan should take a trip to Brooksville and see what has happened since a stretch of U.S. 41 (Broad Street) was made one-way through that Hernando County city in the early 1990s. Some folks are still miffed, and rightfully so.
As the Tribune's Laura Kinsler reported last fall, some merchants reported large drops in business the first year. Others closed, and "one block lost virtually all its retail shops."
Today, some business owners want DOT to change the traffic pattern back to the way it was before.
But the bottom line is navigating downtown Brooksville was made more difficult.
Kopelousos and other DOT officials need to drop their burdensome Zephyrhills plan and work with city officials, who know what's best for their city. Other municipalities with similar issues now and in the future will be watching.
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