By Kyle LoJacono
The recession has created budget shortfalls at every level, but road construction projects continue to be funded and move forward in east Pasco County.
The Pasco County Commission is expected to approve the low-bid contract of $22 million to widen SR 54 to six lanes form I-75 to Curley Road in Wesley Chapel on March 16.
“Pepper Contracting Services, which is based in Clearwater, had the lowest bid for the project at just more than $22 million,” said Pasco chief project manager Robert Shepherd. “They will get the project because they passed all of our background checks and were the lowest bidder. The project will add the lanes to 3.47 miles of (SR) 54.”
Shepherd said construction would likely begin April 5 and could take 21 months to complete.
“We need to keep building, especially new roads because the population in east Pasco is still growing,” said Pasco County Commissioner Ted Schrader. “We sometimes get complaints sometimes from the people who drive the roads every day and want road projects completed faster. They don’t understand how much goes into a project. A lot happens behind the scenes to start a project.”
Schrader is from Pasco District 1, which covers all of Zephyrhills, Dade City, much of Wesley Chapel and some of northern Land O’ Lakes.
SR 54 is already four lanes at the western end of the project zone, but the road shrinks to two lanes at Pointe Pleasant Boulevard near Heritage Ford.
Schrader said the county had already purchased the land needed for the expansion and many of the affected businesses have relocated within Pasco. The construction that is currently happening on SR 54 is on utilities in preparation for the widening.
There are several steps before a county project can begin. The job is first advertised for at least 30 days and bids are then evaluated. The lowest bidder wins the contract unless they have something that disqualifies them.
“Companies can be disqualified if they have a history of not completing projects or other similar red flags,” Shepherd said. “The county has attorneys look at the bids also to make sure the math is correct and everything is as it should be. Basically it’s to insure the company can finish the project.”
The last steps are the contract is awarded and the winning company has to then get bonded and insured to protect the public’s investment.
“It’s very important that companies are bonded in case they can’t complete the project,” Schrader said. “When a company is fired from a Pasco County project the bonding company is responsible for getting another company to complete the project. The bonding company then pays any cost over the original contract. No additional public money would be used in those cases.”
These safeguards are especially important now after Pasco’s head of finance recently said the county would likely lose $17 million this year without property tax increases.
This bonding process will help Pasco complete two other projects in Wesley Chapel and Land O’ Lakes. The largest of these is the extension of Collier Parkway through Hale Road and Parkway Boulevard. WDG Construction Inc. was working on the project before it was fired by the county Feb. 9.
“The bonding company has narrowed its list of companies to finish the Collier extension to six and they should make their recommendation soon,” Shepherd said. “The original building company received $1,489,000 for the work they had done, and 10 percent of that is withheld until the projects completion. The company that finishes the project will get that 10 percent.”
The original contract with WDG was for $4.3 million. The company was also fired from the project to connect Mansfield and Meadow Pointe boulevards in Wesley Chapel. Shepherd said that project is still scheduled to be completed in April even though a replacement company had yet to be named as of March 5.
Additional construction on Meadow Pointe from S.R. 54 to near Smith Road all started March 7. The project includes milling, resurfacing and restriping the road and one lane will be open at any point in time. The project is expected to be completed within 30 days. The improvements to Meadow Pointe will provide a detour for residents and commuters during the widening of SR 54.
“We want all of Pasco County to continue to grow and that requires road projects,” Schrader said. “It’s a problem during the project with traffic being delayed and occasionally you have problems with the contractor, but in the end it will benefit all the people and businesses in the area.”