By Kyle LoJacono
When Pasco County started the widening of SR 54 in Wesley Chapel it was promised to pave the way for a more connected region, but a pair of glitches have arisen near Boyette Road.
Since the traffic pattern changed last December, the 10 or more semi trucks that come by the Wesley Chapel Business Center each week cannot leave without turning across both lanes of traffic and the blocked off portion to the south. Support The Troops Inc., which sends supplies to U.S. troops serving abroad, is located in that complex.
“It’s a big mess,” said Bob Williams, Support The Troops founder. “The trucks just can’t make that turn. If you’ve got a truck worth more than $100,000, you’re not going to risk it getting damaged to drop off donations to us. I’ve already seen problems with donations because of the turning.”
Williams shares the building with two companies owned by his sons.
Pasco chief engineer James Widman said the county has already increased the turning radius out of the center from 35 to 50 feet.
“Trucks should be able to turn in that amount of space,” Widman said.
Williams’ complaint with the project does not end with the turning radius. He also claims the county promised him a wall would be built between SR 54 and the center to protect it if someone hits the building. Currently, only five feet and a small guardrail separate the structure from the thousands of vehicles that drive by every day.
“We’ve just stopped using our corner office near the road because we know it’s just a matter of time before someone crashes into us, especially when the other lanes open and more people drive though,” Williams said. “It’s sad that you reach an agreement in good faith with someone and they back out.”
Williams said it was a verbal agreement. Widman said no promise was ever made. He said he met with Williams, who lives in Lutz, and agreed to present the idea of building a dividing wall to the county lawyer. In the end he says it was decided they would help Williams build the barrier, but would not pay for it.
“We compensated Mr. Williams when we bought the land to do the project,” Widman said. “The amount we gave him was not only for the land, but also to account for anything, such as a wall, that he would need to build.”
The amount Williams received was unavailable from the county, which paid $74.2 million total to acquire right-of-way for the project.
Widman, who emphasized he believes Williams is a good man, said such a dividing wall would cost $40,000 to $60,000.
“They’ll eventually do something, but Pasco County likes to wait until two or three people get killed before they do anything,” Williams said. “Everybody is incensed by this. You can’t even get to the post office without nearly getting into an accident.”
Williams has created a temporary solution to the problem, placing a steel overseas shipping container filled with 100,000 pounds of anything he could find next to his building on his property.
“It will prevent anyone from driving through our building and hopefully will get the county to move a little faster,” Williams said.
The Wesley Chapel Post Office is on Boyette just west of the business center. Problems there began when the intersection of Boyette and SR 54 lost its traffic signal when the lanes shifted.
Megan Hill nearly got into an accident turning onto Boyette to mail a Christmas package. She lives east of the post office and the new configuration of SR 54 made it difficult for her to see when to turn.
“You’re right up against the buildings and then the turn is just past them,” Hill said. “I hit the brakes to turn right and the person behind me had to go into the other lane of traffic to not hit me. I’ve lived here for 10 years, but I almost missed that turn I’ve made about 100 times.”
Widman said he has suggested putting signs up to alert drivers the turn for the post office is near.
“The other problem is we have the wrong street name on the new traffic signal,” Widman said. “That new road that comes through east of Boyette is called Vandine Road. For some reason the Boyette sign was put on top of the new light.”
That new road comes south where Boyette begins its S-curve. It is named after a family that owned the land the county bought to build the street. Widman said it is designed to take traffic off Boyette, which is why it received the signal that Boyette lost.
“We had to remove the light because the distance was too close to have two as part of the access management plan for the road,” Widman said. “It has to meet state requirements. Traffic on Boyette should taper off as people get used to using Vandine Road instead. We understand change is difficult and we aren’t perfect. We’ll do what we can to put the right signage out for drivers.”
Widman added the project to widen SR 54 to six lanes from I-75 to Curley Road is well ahead of schedule and he thinks it should be done before next March as was originally planned.
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