In just a matter of weeks or even days, federal officials are expected to give the final green light to an Interstate 75 interchange project that will forever change one rural country road in Pasco County.
Despite its proximity to Wesley Chapel District Park and the future site of a high school, Overpass Road is typically a quiet one, connecting Old Pasco and Boyette roads over the interstate. But work could begin as early as next year to turn it into an important Pasco County traffic corridor, alleviating some of the congestion at State Road 52 to the north and State Road 54 to the south.
“Over time, you’re going to see more access points coming into this portion of the county,” said James Edwards, transportation planning manager for Pasco County. “Overpass Road is a $50 million project, and the county is going to have to come up with a funding plan to make it work.”
Once the county receives approval from the Federal Highway Administration through the Florida Department of Transportation, it has just eight years to construct the interchange. If it fails, then the entire planning process would have to start again.
“When we get approval is when the clock starts ticking,” Edwards said. “You don’t want to miss that window, because basically you’d be starting from scratch with your planning studies. And that could put you back two or three more years.”
Immediate plans are to widen Overpass Road to four lanes, with the ability to expand to six in the future. Eventually, the county is interested in using an expanded Overpass Road to connect Old Pasco Road and U.S. 301 in Zephyrhills.
The area might be quiet and rural now, but it’s not expected to look that way over the next 20 years, Edwards said. Studies show that the population will explode 400 percent to 218,000 people in 2035. Right now, just fewer than 60,000 people live in that area.
Capacity on I-75 also will increase through that area from the current 51,000 vehicles daily between State Roads 52 and 54, to 165,800 in 2040. That volume will completely clog up the existing interchanges in San Antonio to the north and Wesley Chapel to the south, and could even back up State Road 56 just north of the Hillsborough County line.
Some officials already have speculated that the State Road 54/56 corridor could some day be forced to expand to 20 lanes, which has prompted one private group to propose an elevated toll road to create express lanes between Zephyrhills and New Port Richey. While the expansion of Overpass Road would be just nine miles compared to the 33 miles of the elevated road, traffic going back and forth between the interstate and east Pasco could at least have another road alternative, Edwards said.
The county has a chance to have state and federal highway construction dollars offset the Overpass Road project, but first officials have to show they can fund it on their own, Edwards said. County officials use money primarily from gas taxes, Penny for Pasco and mobility fees to fund construction. But those funds have not necessarily been plentiful in recent years, especially after county commissioners rejected an expansion of the gas tax last year.
Raising money through bonds is another possibility, Edwards said. That could be more costly in the long run because the county would have to pay interest on the bonds.
Pasco County has already started to earmark funds for this particular project, however, with $15 million, Edwards said. And there’s a chance the new Penny for Pasco that starts in 2015 could generate some money for this project.
“Whether the state or federal government will put in any money, you can’t depend on that,” Edwards said.