Walk/run celebrates opening of SR 56 extension
By Maggie Schiller
To celebrate the long-awaited opening of the SR 56 extension, Wiregrass Ranch and the Greater Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce held a celebratory Walk/Run on Saturday, July 31.
Despite the sweltering heat, nearly 400 community members, along with several local businesses came out to support the cause.
“This is the day that many people thought would never come,” said David West, executive director of the Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce. “Many people built their houses expecting this road to come through and make it convenient to get to their home. It has been delayed quite awhile, but I am glad so many people came out to witness and actually see the barricades removed and the road actually opened for traffic.”
The walk/run was a four-mile loop, with an optional two and one mile loop, beginning at the intersection of Mansfield Boulevard and the new extension of SR 56.
Kurt Stone, 8, who ran alongside his brother, Evan Stone, 10, said the run was a lot of fun.
“It was hot and sweaty,” he said. “But I made it.”
Two weeks ago, the event was merely a ribbon cutting ceremony, but thanks to the help of J.D. Porter, one of the developers of Wiregrass Ranch, it took on a whole new life.
“It started off just as a ribbon cutting but Porter called the chamber of commerce and asked us to get involved in making it an event, so we began to bring in the walk/run and the food vendors and then really tried to help the members of the chamber who are suffering through July and August,” West said.
Porter said that the completion of the project is godsend for anybody living in the Wesley Chapel area.
“Basically the way we are looking at it is that it is a gateway that has opened up a lot more business opportunities, a lot more traction opportunities and a lot more things the community has been screaming for,” he said. “A lot more things that Wesley Chapel people have been wanting we are going to provide off of a major highway. It kind of opens up everything that has been back here for so long.”
Alexandra Williamson, from Meadow Pointe, ran in the event with her husband and said she thinks SR 56 will do many positive things for the community.
“For one it alleviates all the traffic, especially with all the construction that is going on at Bruce B. Downs, so this is going to be a big plus just with the shortcut going through Meadow Pointe,” she said. “Plus all the nice walkways that they have along the road brings people out on long walks, more bike riding. Just for that aspect of it I love it.”
The road will alleviate traffic along construction-heavy SR 54 and cut miles off the drive from locations such as deep inside Meadow Pointe.
“I drive to work downtown and I currently live on the northeast side of Meadow Pointe, so I take 54 which is currently under construction and sometimes it takes about 15 to 20 minutes just to get to the interstate,” said Michael Ruiz. “I can take this road which cuts in through Meadow Pointe over to the interstate 75 and it should cut my time back a lot.”
Eventually, SR 56 is expected to continue east to US 301 in Zephyrhills.
But even now, this new extension makes a huge difference, said County Commissioner Pat Mulieri.
“Our motto is bringing opportunities home,” she said. “It is going to bring more things in and roads are extremely important for an industry. I just say hallelujah this road is opening.”