Pasco County officials say the Florida Turnpike Enterprise is trying to pull a fast one on them and make the county pay $10 million for an interchange at the Suncoast Parkway and Ridge Road that originally was the responsibility of the state agencies.
At a workshop for the Pasco Metropolitan Planning Organization on Jan. 14, County Commissioner Mike Moore gave a brief history of the project, designed to connect Ridge Road with the toll road and give Pasco County residents an alternative evacuation route besides state roads 52 and 54.
“In 1997, FDOT came to the county to purchase the Seranova DRI as an environmental set aside for the Suncoast Parkway. They wanted the county to support that purchase,” he said. “As part of that agreement for the county’s support, FDOT agreed to construct all the Ridge Road interchange improvements when the county was ready to build Ridge Road. That time has come. The county has upheld their end of the bargain. So my question for the FTE is: Why are you now balking at paying for the full cost of the interchange and instead want the county to cover $10 million of your interchange cost?”
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said the money was there originally.
“I do believe we did have the money sitting in the bank,” she said.
Commissioner Jack Mariano said that when he was chairman of the MPO in 2006, the Florida Turnpike Enterprise said it would put the money back if the county approved the road extension.
“We’ve been told down the line we’re going to get this thing done, and to have this coming down the line that we’re going to be hit with a $10 million bill is definitely worth a big discussion,” he said. “We want input on it.”
Moore said he hoped that someone from leadership would be available to explain this. Siaosi Fine, the turnpike MPO liaison, said that all he knew was that at the beginning of fiscal year 2021, there was construction funding.
“I heard about talks of FTE working on Ridge Road, but all I know is about them working on the interchange,” he said, promising to take the issue back to the FTE leadership.
Moore said the original agreement was that FTE would build the interchange no matter the cost.
“Pasco County is not obligated to put a penny into that. I have a copy of the agreement right here,” he said. “We need immediately for FTE to fulfill their obligation.”
Justin Hall, Florida Department of Transportation District 7 government liaison administrator, said he knows they have $15 million but the point of contention is the 1-mile road that connects to the interchange.
“There’s a meeting tomorrow (Jan. 15) between the county and the turnpike. I’ll try to see what I can find out,” Hall said. “My understanding is the meeting tomorrow is supposed to be on that topic.”
“Hopefully there’ll be a good outcome tomorrow,” Moore said.
Also at the workshop, reports were delivered on improvements at the State Road 54 interchange and trails projects.