The seemingly never-ending Diverging Diamond Interchange Project has wrapped up construction and is operating with its new traffic pattern at the intersection of State Road 56 and Interstate 75 (I-75).
Starting back in January 2019, the $33.6-million Central Pasco project hit not only delays, but fell behind schedule and faced management hurdles.
However, the traffic is now flowing through seven lanes. The project also features crosswalks and bike lanes, as well.
“The roadway is in final configuration — converted to the Diverging Diamond Interchange traffic pattern on May 1, 2022 and is functioning as intended,” Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) officials told The Laker/Lutz News. “With the opening of the final westbound State Road 56 thru-lane and a third northbound exit ramp left-turn lane on Oct. 31, 2022, all capacity improvements were completed throughout the project.”
Officials from FDOT also said the entirety of the project will be completed mid- to late January, with “some final paving and pavement markings to be completed that are weather-dependent activities (rain and cooler temperatures must be avoided). Other remaining work mostly involves final cleanup and completion of minor repairs/deficiencies.”
The new pattern diverges, or crosses, State Road 56 traffic to the left side of the road through the interchange, and then crosses vehicles back over to the right side of the road on the opposite side of the interchange.
This pattern reduces vehicle delays by allowing traffic to enter the interstate without waiting at a left-turn signal. To accomplish this, traffic is redirected from the right side of the bridge to the left side.
Signalized crossovers are positioned at each side of the interchange, and are designed to cross eastbound and westbound State Road 56 traffic with no turning movements at these two intersections. This design allows for more efficient signal timing, which reduces delay times, minimizes conflict points and enables the interchange to efficiently handle higher volumes of traffic while eliminating more serious crashes associated with a conventional interchange.
The project was completed by Superior Construction Company Southeast LLC.
That wasn’t the construction management company that began the project.
Work was halted in June 2021, when D.A.B. Constructors notified FDOT it was demobilizing from the project. The state transportation department then defaulted D.A.B., on July 1, 2021.
D.A.B. Constructors, which had told the county in November 2020 it was behind schedule on the project, had seven projects in FDOT District 7, including three in Pasco County. After D.A.B. was defaulted on the Diverging Diamond project, it self-defaulted on the other Pasco projects, which are on State Road 52 and State Road 54.
It would take another two months before Superior Construction would restart the work in September 2021 on the first diverging diamond in District 7.
Florida’s first diverging diamond opened at University Parkway at I-75, in Sarasota, in 2017.
Nearby businesses, restaurants, hotels and attractions are ecstatic the project is up and running. Especially since when the project was first proposed, the start date was in 2024. Former County Commissioner Mike Moore advocated for the project to be started sooner.
“I’m very happy that we were able to work very closely with our legislators and FDOT to get that diverging diamond moved up from 2024 — when it originally was going to start — to now, almost being completed,” Moore told The Laker/Lutz News in November.
“That’s huge. It really is huge.”
Chris Durant, general manager at Tampa Premium Outlets, is delighted by the project’s completion, noting: “It has greatly improved our shoppers’ experience.
“The updated traffic pattern makes it easier than ever for our guests to access our property, and the timing was perfect for Black Friday and holiday shopping.”
Those at AdventHealth Center Ice, the five-rink, 150,000-square-foot arena at the northwest corner of State Road 56 and I-75, are glad that after five years at its location, to see the project complete. They know it will help with the thousands of visitors and skaters the arena welcomes annually.
“I know (the interchange) well because I drive it every day,” said Jim Charos, vice president of sponsorships and affiliations at the facility.
“So far, it’s working very well; it has made our lives a lot easier, as well as the lives of our customers, and our skaters,” Charos said.
The project also added sidewalks, crossing signals and bike lanes for pedestrians and riders to cross over I-75, going both east and west. However, walking from attractions, such as from Center Ice to Tampa Premiums Outlets and its restaurants and attractions could be up to more than 2 miles in distance one way.
Charos appreciates that visitors of Center Ice who are staying at nearby hotels have the option of walking, but he doesn’t expect many to make the trek.
“It’s great they can go enjoy all the amenities across the bridge, but I’ll be very surprised if anyone does (that walk),” he said. “It’s too imposing, too scary — I wouldn’t walk it. I know that capability is there, to walk it from our place, but it’s not short and it’s not easy.
“Realistically, that’s a drive for anyone that’s on our side of I-75.”
Published December 14, 2022