LACOOCHEE — Pausing just south of Gould Road, John and Elaine Allen had come to the end of a multi-mile trek Wednesday morning, only a block away from their Dade City home.
The couple walked more than a mile south along U.S. 301 and back on a portion of sidewalk less than three months old.
“When they first started building it, we said, ‘Yay, we have a sidewalk to walk on’ and that way we won’t have to go on the trail, which is two miles from our house,” Elaine Allen said.
Prior to that, no sidewalks existed, and pedestrians walked in grass near the roadway, sometimes a little more than an arm’s reach from passenger cars and 18-wheel trucks driving past.
The Allens said they’ve used the new stretch of concrete regularly since its construction, part of a $6.9 million makeover on U.S. 301.
The bulk of the funds are dedicated to resurfacing the thoroughfare from Pioneer Museum Road in Dade City to Mosstown Road in Lacoochee, but about $625,000 will be used to construct sidewalks on each side of the highway for pedestrian traffic.
The full project, which is roughly 5 miles in length, is expected to come to completion by next summer.
“It’s a great idea,” John Allen, Elaine’s husband, said.
In the past, the pair would drive about two miles north to a parking lot and then walk to get some exercise along the Withlacoochee State Trail. They were always uneasy about leaving their car and the possibility of it being burglarized.
The Allens say their elderly neighbor has, for some time now, ridden her motorized cart along that stretch of 301 to the northern reaches of downtown Dade City.
But not all area residents are supporters of the sidewalks.
At a nearby business, Bob McGuire sat in a chair at Jack’s Barbershop, just off 301 in Trilacoochee, getting a haircut and a shave. He’s not so fond of the project.
“I think it’s utterly ridiculous because the money spent in Pasco County on that could have been spent in different areas,” said McGuire, a Trilby resident who has lived in Pasco County since the 1940s.
One of the areas McGuire would prefer the money be spent is on Peterson Park, located east of the Withlacoochee State Trail and west of U.S. 98 in Trilby. The park, a place he often visited growing up, has been closed for almost a decade.
“That was the perfect place for people to have fish fries, they had all kinds of stuff there. Baptisms, everything else, right there in the river. Picnic tables and pavilions and it’s locked.”
McGuire said if the state needs money for the upkeep of the park, just place a booth at the entrance to collect a small fee. He’d be willing to pay.
McGuire said very few people walk the stretch of U.S. 301 near the area of the barbershop.
“I guarantee you, in a year, you wouldn’t see 100 people walking to Dade City,” McGuire added.
Cpl. David Hink, chairman of the Lacoochee/Trilby/Trilacoochee Steering Committee, said the sidewalks are needed. He’s heard stories of people walking and riding their bike along that highway, essentially taking their lives in their hands.
“I think a sidewalk is a small thing to some people. It may mean nothing to them, but to a lot of people who don’t have a lot up here, it means everything,” said Hink, a member of the Pasco Sheriff’s Office’s Officer Friendly program. “It gets them off the road. Can you imagine your wife pushing your daughter or son down 301? Can you put a price on someone’s life? I don’t think so.”
He said there have been accidents involving pedestrians hit by cars.
“Over the last five years in the Tampa Bay area, a fatal pedestrian/bicyclist crash has occurred once every four and half days,” said Kris Carson, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Transportation. “Nearly three pedestrian crashes have occurred each day. We are doing everything we can to make the numbers go down, whether it is adding sidewalks, adding bike lanes, brightening up crosswalks, etc. We follow the three E’s — engineering, enforcement and education.”
Hink is also hopeful the new level of mobility will attract new businesses to the area.
County officials hoped the sidewalk would be a combined bike path and walkway on the just one side of the road, said Ted Schrader, chairman of the Pasco County commissioners. It would have connected a bike path that runs north of Trilby.
That plan ran into several concerns. It would have needed more right-of-way and more complex designs, which would have brought the price tag above $1 million, he said.
Also, FDOT was concerned with pedestrians having to cross the thoroughfare, he said.
Additionally, the county would have had to come up with money for the bike path/walkway combination.
Schrader said because there isn’t the demand for bus ridership, the bus line in that area doesn’t run as frequently, leaving people to find other means of travel.
“Because of that, people need another mode of transportation and, unfortunately, if they don’t have a car, they’re either going to ride a bike or walk,” Schrader said. “It will certainly make it safer for them, and bottom line that’s what’s more important.’’
Back at the corner of Gould Road and U.S. 301, the Allens were enthused to see progress in their part of town.
“We were happy because it gives us a place to walk and get our exercise,” Elaine Allen said. “You can always spend the money somewhere else.”
John Allen added: “But they don’t usually on this side of Pasco County.”