Pasco officials have a message for residents fed up with snarled traffic along Road 68: Help is on the way.
The city has scheduled an open house from 6-8 p.m. Wednesday night at Pasco City Hall, 525 N. Third Ave,. to talk about $1.2 million in upcoming improvements to the signals and the roads. Construction is expected to start in late summer and finish during the fall.
"We want to make sure people know what's coming," said City Manager Gary Crutchfield, adding the road is traveled by 50,000 cars a day.
The traffic particularly is bad during the evening commute, said Starla Wolf, assistant manager at Cousins' Restaurant at the intersection of Road 68 and Rodeo Drive.
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"The whole strip is a mess," Wolf said. "The lights, for one thing, take too long in one direction and not long enough in the other -- and that's frustrating."
New signals will sense when cars are in particular lanes and communicate with each other to improve traffic flow, officials said. Drivers on the main arterial won't be stopped if there is no one in the turn lane. The lights also will preempt traffic for emergencies, allowing fire, police and medical vehicles to improve response times.
A pair of federal grants will pay for most of the improvements.
Public Works director Ahmad Qayoumi said regular Federal Highway Administration gas tax money, totaling $650,000, are paying for a little more than half the project, with a $500,000 federal grant -- which Pasco beat out other communities for -- picking up most of the remainder. The city is responsible for matching 15.5 percent of the cost.
Other changes include raising the medians on Road 68 between Burden Boulevard and Sandifur Parkway, modifying median and turn lanes at the Burden Boulevard-Clemente Lane intersection to prevent left turns, and building new left turn lanes in areas that now have landscaped medians.
Dangerous left turns have been a problem along Road 68, Crutchfield said.
"Some people will dart across all five lanes," he said. "It's amazing what people will do to save five minutes."
City Councilman Saul Martinez, who represents the northwest Pasco area where the road improvements will be made, said some businesses along the road might be concerned about how restricting left turns could affect their customers. But the changes are being made for safety reasons, he added.
"I have never personally experienced much of a delay there, but I have seen some close calls (for accidents)," Martinez said. "If we can find ways to prevent those close calls, that would be great."
Qayoumi said he hasn't heard any business complaints about limiting access, but anyone who has problems with the changes is welcome to attend the meeting.
Drivers shouldn't see major delays during the construction because much of it involves work on traffic signals, Qayoumi said.
"It shouldn't take a long time," he said.
The city is still seeking federal funds to add dual right-turn lanes at the Road 68 entrance ramp with Interstate 182, Qayoumi said. Pasco would like to begin the design process on that later this year.
A second open house on the Road 68 improvements is planned in May.