By Steve Lee
WESLEY CHAPEL — Like many commuters, Greg Brown and his wife, Tamara, live in Land O’ Lakes and work in Hillsborough County. Along the way, they travel — or sometimes crawl — along a clogged Wesley Chapel highway interchange.
Just north of where I-75 and I-275 converge is the SR 56 exit, a four-lane off-ramp for vehicles traversing east to Wesley Chapel and west to Land O’ Lakes with two lanes going in each direction. During rush hours, that exit is occasionally transformed into a parking lot.
“If I get there at 5:30 or 6 (p.m.), you’re stopped,” Tamara said. “That’s when everybody’s coming through. You have to watch out on both sides. It’s crazy.”
Added Greg, “The most dangerous part of it is the people trying to come over from I-75 to I-275. At dusk or dawn, some people have their lights on and some people don’t.”
Inclement weather only makes matters worse.
“One light rain in the stop-and-go (traffic) and it’s all over,” Greg said. “Every time you turn around you’re almost hitting someone or someone’s almost hitting you.”
The Department of Transportation is working to change all that. Trees have been cleared along the east side of I-75, just south of the SR 56 exit as part of a $30 million road-widening project. Landclearing began in mid-October with two new off-ramps to SR 56 targeted for a 2012 completion.
DOT figures report that more than 113,000 vehicles pass through the I-75, I-275 interchange daily. That includes northbound and southbound traffic. The off-ramps would eliminate the current merger setup by making it possible to exit onto SR 56 from both interstates.
“That might be really good,” Greg said.
Warren DeGroot, who lives in Land O’ Lakes, coaches lacrosse in Wesley Chapel and works in New Tampa off Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, is somewhat skeptical.
“I get on the highway and I get scared,” DeGroot said. “The whole merging there. I’m surprised there’s not more people who have died. I try to avoid that area as much as possible.”
Pasco County traffic numbers reveal 101 accidents, two of which were fatal, in 2008. And in Ocotber, one man died when a pickup truck ran into the back of a fuel tanker near the 56 exit.
All the more reason for the road widening project to get under way before the nearby Cypress Creek Town Center is built, said State Rep. Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel). That project recently received a 10-year construction deadline to 2021.
“We’re just playing a little bit of catch-up,” Weatherford said, alluding to road projects catching up to residential and commercial development. “We need the infrastructure. Eventually, it’s going to get there.”
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