Widening on pace for early December finish
By Kyle LoJacono
The most expensive road project in Pasco County history is just more than three months away from completion.
Pasco Chief Project Manager Robert Shepherd said the $105.2 million job to widen SR 54 in Wesley Chapel will be finished before Christmas.
“Everything is going well,” Shepherd said. “We’re approximately four months ahead of schedule.”
The project, which started last March, is making the highway six lanes from I-75 to Curley Road, a stretch of about 3.5 miles.
James Widman, Pasco chief engineer, said the reason for the early opening lies with the construction company, Pepper Contracting Services.
“Their people are really moving and have been from the start,” Widman said. “They’ve had everyone working at what I would call top speed since the beginning, and it has shown in the pace of construction.”
Shepherd said all the major hurdles, including moving utilities, are finished. He said the only obstacle that could slow things down would be an unusually wet end of the year.
“The only concern would be the weather during the next three months, but we are in good shape to handle the normal amount of rain that would be expected,” Shepherd said.
Shepherd also said all major traffic pattern shifts have already happened, so drivers will likely not see any big surprises while driving through the construction zone until the job is done.
“We will have three more traffic shifts, but the same amount of lanes will remain open during the remainder of the project,” Shepherd said. “No big surprises left. At least, we hope there won’t be any.”
Only $28 million of the project is for the construction, about 27 percent of the total cost. The majority of the money, $74.2 million, went to right-of-way land purchase, with another $3 million for planning and design.
Widman said the cost of right-of-way was so expensive because of the large number of businesses that had to be bought out in order to complete the job. He said there were about eight businesses that had to be completely removed, with most moving elsewhere within the county.
Pasco Commissioner Pat Mulieri said the county has established a new ordinance to make sure such hefty price tags for road widenings do not become a habit.
“We’ve learned from that and now we have a row-acquisition policy, so development has to be far enough away from roads for future widening,” Mulieri said.
Mulieri added she has been a big proponent of such road widenings and other infrastructure improvements during her 17 years on the county commission.
“It’s one of the best things we can do to bring more jobs to our county,” Mulieri said. “We need to have ways to move people and products.
“It is already bringing more jobs to the area,” Mulieri continued. “T. Rowe Price is bringing 1,600 jobs to the area and they told me it was because of the building of needed roads like (SR) 54.”
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