Pasco County (WFLA) - Pasco County government leaders swear the infamous Ridge Road Extension “road to nowhere” is going somewhere soon. But after 20 years of waiting, and more than $15 million spent, critics scoff.
“It’s been ridiculous up to this point,” said Sierra Club spokesman Dan Rametta. “Now it’s becoming absurd.”
At last month’s Pasco MPO meeting, board members apologized for laughing when a Pasco County planner predicted that the Army Corps of Engineers would approve the latest design, known as “Mod 7,” by year’s end.
Bridging the Serenova Preserve
The redesigned 8-mile road would pass through the environmentally-sensitive Serenova Preserve to link Ridge Road - which now dead-ends into a wilderness area at Moon Lake Road - to the Suncoast Parkway. Eventually “Phase 2” of the plan would extend it to U.S 41.
The latest design includes elevated sections to placate Sierra Club concerns about the passage of water and wildlife north to south through wetland areas of the Serenova Preserve.
Pasco Commissioner Jack Mariano is a longtime champion of the project and says it’s needed to accommodate hurricane evacuations from the coast.
“Well, we actually think we’re going to get approval by the end of the year,” Mariano said. "It got delayed a little but we’ve got a (housing) development coming along that might actually help pay for the last phase."
Cost keeps growing
Pasco says the initial phase that stretches from Moon Lake Road to the Suncoast will cost about $89 million, but critics with the Sierra Club insist that county cost projections to extend the road to U.S. 41 and the Connerton development will add another $68 million or so. That doesn't include millions more for an interchange at the Suncoast Parkway.
Meanwhile, Pasco Commissioners have agreed to extend a contract for well-connected consultants in Washington D.C. and pay them as much as $33,000 a month to keep the wheels greased with the Army Corps of Engineers approval process. That works out to about $45 an hour, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, or the equivalent of an entire year’s tax bill for more than 300 homes in a Port Richey neighborhood.
Rametta insists that amounts to throwing good tax money after bad on a lost cause.
“The consultants are going to tell the county whatever keeps the money stream coming,” Rametta said.
Pasco Administrator goes to Washington
Pasco County Administrator Dan Biles traveled to Washington last week to huddle with those consultants and insists he came back more enthusiastic than ever that the Corps is on track for approval by year’s end. Pasco Commissioners appear just as convinced.
“I believe we’re going to get that answer shortly,” said Pasco Commissioner Ron Oakley. “But we won’t know until that happens.”
Road to nowhere?
Meanwhile, the Sierra Club and other environmentalists claim the county just doesn’t know how to give up after spending 20 years and millions of tax dollars on a road to nowhere.
“It’s an embarrassment to the Army Corps, an embarrassment to the commissioners and it’s a financial drain or a punitive punishment on the taxpayers of Pasco County, “Rametta said.
“Granted, with Army Corps of Engineers could take forever and a day with them,” Mariano said. “But I tell you with Donald Trump in position, we’re finding a way to get a lot of stuff done. It looks like a very viable road.”
After two decades of planning, spending and no construction, critics insist it also looks like a “road to nowhere” and a costly one for taxpayers.