Road extension expected to spur economic growth

Construction on the State Road 56 extension began in February and is expected to wrap up in late 2019.

When finished, the new four-lane segment will provide a 6-mile link between Zephyrhills and Wesley Chapel.

The extension will be from Meadow Pointe Boulevard in Wiregrass Ranch to U.S. 301 in Zephyrhills.

A silt fence is installed as construction gets underway on a section of the new State Road 56 extension. The project will be completed in late 2019. (Courtesy of Florida Department of Transportation)

The road project also will add a 10-foot wide multi-use trail on the south side of State Road 56, a five-foot sidewalk on the north side, and seven-foot bicycle lanes going in each direction.

Traffic signals will be installed at Morris Bridge Road, at the new intersection with State Road 56, and at U.S. 301 where it connects with the new extension.

Major benefits are anticipated for traffic relief and economic development.

“Obviously, this will help relieve the traffic for people back and forth from Zephyrhills to Wesley Chapel, and vice versa,” said Pasco County Commission Chairman Mike Moore.

But, the east-west connection also should remove some traffic from State Road 54, which is clogged with traffic backups daily, he said.

The project has other impacts, too, Moore said, “It will be a huge economic boon to the area. The opportunities will open for more jobs.”

State Rep. Danny Burgess, a former mayor of Zephyrhills, agreed.

“This means everything,” he said.  “It helps in the revitalization of the area. That’s why, when I got to Tallahassee, I fought so hard for four lanes.”

Initial plans were to build a two-lane extension, with the possibility of adding another two lanes in future.

One beneficiary of the road extension will be the Zephyrhills Municipal Airport, which is undergoing significant upgrades. Approximately 440 acres next to the airport is being prepared for future marketing as site-ready for development.

A site evaluation and marketing study completed by Duke Energy in 2015 identified the location, which has a CXS rail line spur, as a prime site for aerospace manufacturing, light industrial and assembly companies, and the plastics industry.

Moore said the State Road 56 project will give the site direct links to Interstate 75 and Interstate 275, and make the site attractive to developers and businesses nationwide.

Florida Department of Transportation officials estimate the project’s cost at about $58 million. Another $8 million in interest is expected.

More than half the funding is from the state transportation department.

The county received nearly $23 million in a 30-year, low-interest loan from the State Infrastructure Bank. The bank provides loans and other assistance to public or private entities for projects that qualify for aid under federal and state law.

Developers for four residential projects along the route agreed to a repayment schedule through county-collected mobility surcharge fees.

As a backup, revenues from gasoline taxes and special assessments might be applied.

The city of Zephyrhills agreed to pay up to 10 percent of annual loan payments – about $1.3 million – to cover any costs not paid by developers.

State transportation officials suggested the state bank loan after residents lobbied during a town hall meeting to scrap the two-lane extension in favor of building four lanes.

Published November 29, 2017

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