It could cost more than a half-billion dollars to build a tunnel under U.S. 41 to tackle the traffic gridlock at that juncture with State Road 54 in Land O’ Lakes.
A study recently completed for the Pasco County Metropolitan Planning Organization put the estimated cost at more than $550 million.
That’s significantly more than the $134 million estimated to build elevated lanes over the state highway.
The estimate was presented to the MPO board at an April meeting in New Port Richey. The board, which reviews transportation matters, includes Pasco County commissioners and elected officials of the county’s cities. David Gwynn, secretary of District 7 for the Florida Department of Transportation, is a nonvoting advisor.
“I was shocked when I saw the numbers,” Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore said.
Other findings in the study showed that right of way purchases for the tunnel and the elevated lanes would be $70 million each.
Maintenance costs for elevated lanes would be $7 million through 2040. Costs for the tunnel are uncertain, but maintenance would be more than $7 million in the same time period, the study says.
Moore supported the study that MPO board members requested in January. At the time, many thought the board would make a final decision on four recommendations presented by a volunteer task force.
But, Moore said, “It was important to me, at least, to look at every possible solution, and cross it off if you need to.”
Based on the study’s results, he said, “I would definitely say this would be crossed off my list.”
Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano isn’t quite ready to do that, however. He convinced board members to delay its final design selection until the May 10 meeting.
He asked that planning staff members inquire about a tunnel built in downtown Ft. Lauderdale.
That tunnel, he said, appears to be shorter in length than the model considered for U.S. 41.
“Could they have saved a little more if they did it differently?” said Mariano, referring to the study. “I think we should take a closer look. The numbers might come down quite a bit.”
The study considered a tunnel of 6,000 linear feet, with 4,000 linear feet underground. Approaches to the tunnel would be 1,000 feet on either side.
Moore asked Gwynn if the state transportation department would sign on for a project of more than half a billion dollars.
“It’s certainly a lot more difficult to fund than other options,” Gwynn said. He also noted that the tunnel’s design would have to meet certain traffic criteria. “You may find you can’t shorten it a lot,” he added.
The task force, which studied the matter for two years, looked at 11 alternative designs and a no-build option. Among the four designs the volunteer group recommended were elevated lanes at major intersections and a system of parallel frontage roads at-grade level.
The task force never considered a tunnel, which would be built with a “cut and cover” technique.
Workers would cut a large size trench, lined with walls, and then, cover it over.
The intersection of U.S. 41 and State Road 54 sees upwards of 100,000 vehicles a day pass through it.
The MPO will decide on May 10 if they want to add the tunnel to the list of potential designs. If approved, the issue would go back to the task force for review.
If the tunnel is rejected, board members plan to vote on the four recommendations from the task force.
“This needs to get on the docket,” said Pasco County Commission Chairman Mike Wells Jr. “We need to get moving on this. Time is of the essence. This intersection is not getting better.”
Published April 25, 2018