Construction dust, giant cranes and truck traffic are an everyday inconvenience near Tampa Bay Golf & Country Club.
Road crews are busy expanding the interchange at Interstate 75 and State Road 52 from County Road 54 to Hernando County.
The three-year project is slated for completion in 2017, and is meant to improve traffic flow by widening I-75 from four lanes to six lanes, with three lanes in each direction.
State Road 52 also will be widened to six lanes. There will be frontage roads north and south of State Road 52, west of I-75. Sidewalks and bicycle lanes also will be installed.
But, what John Hart sees and hears from his backyard in Tampa Golf & Country Club he perceives as trouble.
He’s worried about a steady flow of cars and 18-wheelers delivering nonstop noise and rattling the foundation of his home.
And, in a worst-case scenario, he’s concerned about an overturned semitrailer crashing into his backyard.
The retired Rhode Island cop has been on a three-year crusade on behalf of his community to improve conditions.
“We’re looking for a safety wall,” Hart said. “I want to see the wall out there. I want to see people protected.”
State highway officials maintain that a study completed prior to construction did not justify a wall based on noise levels. And the road design, they say, meets national safety standards.
The entrance into the age 55 and older community is off State Road 52, within a few yards of the highway ramps.
Hart wants the sound and safety barrier installed along the approximately two-mile outer boundary of his neighborhood paralleling I-75. Currently, a row of pine trees and a vinyl fence are the only defenses against noise, or worse, an out-of-control vehicle, just 300 feet or so from a row of homes backing up to the interstate.
Hart has repeatedly raised his concerns with the Florida Department of Transportation.
He isn’t a man who gives up, even though Hart acknowledges that some by now — even within his community — probably wish he would concede it’s a lost cause.
Hart points to a recent accident as evidence that a safety wall is needed.
On Dec. 11, north of the interchange project, a dump truck in the southbound lane of I-75 blew a tire. A chain reaction accident occurred, involving another dump truck, a van, a semitrailer and a pickup truck.
The driver with the blown tire died and another person suffered serious injuries, according to media reports.
The van ended up on the outside shoulder of the highway.
Hart worries that someday a semitrailer could roll across the road into his backyard. “It would take out this house,” he said.
State department of transportation spokesman John McShaffrey said the state agency can’t design roads for unexpected tire blowouts. But, he added, “We don’t compromise (safety).”
Construction projects aimed at improvements for the community can be a tough sell sometimes, he added.
“One thing to keep in mind is that improvements are needed for the greater good and the motoring public,” McShaffrey said. “We have to look at the greater good.”
In this instance, Tampa Bay Golf & Country Club was in early stages of development when the project was designed, with 10 or fewer homes built.
“The interstate was here first,” McShaffrey said, adding that homebuyers knew they would be living next to I-75.
The community could pay for a wall privately, if that is what residents want, McShaffrey said.
The project’s goal is to make driving safer by adding more lanes, and improving access on and off ramps. It is one of a series of interchange projects statewide along I-75.
“These are capacity projects,” said McShaffrey.
On average, about 50,000 vehicles per day travel on I-75, south of State Road 52, according to state transportation data from 2014.
Estimates for 2020 peg traffic along this segment an average of 56,000 a day.
The project has been on the state road department’s radar for more than a decade. It has met with hurdles along the way, including a lawsuit filed by Hillcrest Properties against Pasco County in 2010. A settlement eventually resolved issues related to a right of way purchase, and cleared the way for construction.
Hart has a file of material he has collected over nearly three years of protests by himself and, at times, hundreds of area residents who attended a public hearing in 2012.
His letters, emails and phone calls seeking relief have gone to U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, Gov. Rick Scott, State Reps. Will Weatherford, John Legg and Danny Burgess. He has reached out to Pasco County Commissioner Ted Schrader, and former State Rep. Jim Norman.
Hart disputes the road department’s sound study.
“We did our own soundings,” he said.
The results showed noise levels in some areas reached 94 decibels, Hart said.
According to data from Purdue University, that equates to a jet taking off, a jackhammer, power mower or motorcycle within 25 feet.
Hart paid thousands of dollars to install double-pane windows that muffle some noises. He also said he repaired a crack in his kitchen ceiling which he attributes to heavy truck traffic.
He also noted a crack in the outer wall of his neighbor’s house, and a chipped window and similar crack on his house’s exterior.
“Every now and then, you can feel vibrations when a truck goes by,” Hart said.
He has hosted tours of Tampa Golf & Country Club for representatives of area lawmakers. He got sympathy but, so far, Hart said nothing has happened.
And, he won’t give up.
“I know what the danger is out there,” he said.
Published January 6, 2016