By Matt Wiley

A study will soon be under way to determine how much funding could be generated using tolls for the potential future construction of elevated lanes above the S.R. 54/56 corridor (which we have reported about previously), stretching from U.S. 19 in New Port Richey to Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd. in Wesley Chapel (see map).

During the July 9 Pasco County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meet- ing, commissioners unanimously approved the $218,785 study, which is being funded by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) and carried out by the URS (United Research Services) Corp. The study is expected to take about eight months to complete.

“They (URS) are experts in toll facilities,” says Richard Gehring, planning and development administrator for Pasco.

Elevated toll lanes could span the S.R. 54/56 corridor in the future. Bonded toll revenue could help fund the project. Photo: TBARTA
Elevated toll lanes could span the S.R. 54/56 corridor in the future. Bonded toll revenue could help fund the project. Photo: TBARTA

“They’re going to study what the toll (revenue) projections are going to be. How much revenue will the tolls produce? How long will it take (toll road usage) to ramp up? When you put a toll facility in place, people have to sort of learn how to use it. They don’t initially want to pay to go from point A to B.”

The idea behind the study is to determine if the project could be funded with bonded toll revenue generated by the pro- posed elevated lanes along the median of the 25-mile S.R. 54/56 corridor that also eventually would include some form of bus mass transit. Local traffic would still move at ground level, but regional traffic, or people trying to quickly move from one side of Pasco to the other, would use the elevated toll lanes. If the toll road is determined to be financially feasible, the County could bond the toll revenue.

Gehring explains that, if built, the corridor could handle more than 150,000 ve- hicles per day. Now, he says, the corridor is capped at about 75,000 per day.

“The corridor has taken on tremendous traffic,” Gehring explains. “A lot of (traffic) projections show that we could never build enough lanes (along the corridor) to keep up with the demand. You can only make a road so wide. The corridor has become regionally significant. It’s not just Pasco traffic anymore.”

Ming Gao, a planning manager for FDOT, explains that during the toll study, URS researchers will look at a variety of factors to develop future traffic projections, including current road usage, population growth, employment growth and land use.

“This is basically a planning study,” Gao says. “(FDOT goes) through a planning process to find out when it’s feasible to start funding projects.” Gao says that by looking at both current traffic and projected growth, along with the other factors, a sophisticated traffic forecast is made to help determine a toll rate that could pay for the project. Depending upon usage, tolls could fluctuate throughout the day during peak traffic hours.

“You look at how much traffic you will generate and then determine how much revenue you could generate from that traffic to determine if it’s feasible to construct this kind of facility,” says Gao. The project is part of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA)’s Regional Transportation 2050 Master Plan and was designated a “priority project” in 2009.

Gehring says that this project will not only benefit transportation, but the local economy, as well.

“The market’s recovering, so the idea is to get this (project) done now,” Gehring explains. “If we do get this done, it will make Pasco County much more attractive for employment.”

For more information about the proposed S.R. 54/56 project, please visit .

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