BROOKSVILLE - The county's eastside has often been referred to as a sleeping giant, primed for residential and business growth.
The downturn in the economy delayed much of that growth, including two planned mega-housing developments of Hickory Hill and Sunrise that would add thousands of residences to the area.
But the county is positioning itself now to improve infrastructure on the eastside so that when the economy improves, there won't be a scramble to get roads, sewer lines and other utilities in place.
This week, the county heard presentations from staff on two such projects: traffic and roadway improvements surrounding the State Road 50 and Interstate 75 interchange.
Staffers said the plan is to close the existing median opening on S.R. 50 at Windmere Road and Bronson Boulevard, just east of I-75, and the relocation of the traffic signal there to a new spot to the east - to Sherman Hills Boulevard.
The other growth project involves the effort by the Hernando County Utilities Department to accelerate the expansion of water and wastewater capacity at the U.S. 301 and S.R. 50 corridor as an incentive for business and industry to move to the area.
That expansion consists of building a water treatment plant on Kettering Road, which would include a 1.2-million gallon water storage tank and high-service pumps.
The project also includes extending water and wastewater transmission lines from Kettering Road to U.S. 301 along S.R. 50, a distance of 3.5 miles.
The eastside project was included as part of a larger presentation about a scaled-down capital improvement plan that called for the suspension of certain infrastructure projects until the population catches up.
"Although there is no current demand for extending lines to this area, not providing capacity may discourage industry from locating to Hernando County," according to a report issued by the county's environmental services director Susan Goebel-Canning.
An alternative to that plan is to temporarily provide standard fire flow and potable water capacity to the U.S. 301 and S.R. 50 area by installing about 9,000 feet of 16-inch water main from U.S. 98 to U.S. 301 via S.R. 50.
Then, when a developer seeks to locate to that area, the utility department could proceed with construction of the transmission lines and water treatment plant.
County commissioners have stressed the availability of infrastructure is a prime attraction for business and industry looking to relocate. Commission Chairman Dave Russell said the adjustments to the long-range plan are "well-timed."
Business Development Manager Mike McHugh said it is "critically important" the county stay competitive in having not only infrastructure in place but to go so far as having sites "shovel ready" for potential clients.
"The bar is rising and we certainly need to be doing that," McHugh said.