Just about every road leading to Zephyrhills is two lanes. And for what is soon to become the largest incorporated city in Pasco County, leaders there says it’s time for that to change.
Yet, whether it’s U.S. 301 from the south, State Road 54 from the west, or now the new extension of State Road 56 into the airport business park area, Zephyrhills just can’t get any respect.
“The rest of (State Road) 54 has been widened in the county, but not Zephyrhills,” one resident and local businessman, Nils Lenz, shared in a recent letter. “Why is Zephyrhills being left out? The population within the city limits of Zephyrhills — with all of the recent annexing in the last few years — (is) only about 200 less in population than New Port Richey.”
Lenz, the owner of B & N Lenz Enterprises, was reacting to news last week that the Florida Department of Transportation was cutting funding of the State Road 56 extension project from $60 million to $35 million. While the 6.7-mile road will connect Wesley Chapel’s Wiregrass Ranch area with U.S. 301 in Zephyrhills, it is no longer a four-lane project.
Cone & Graham, the last contractor standing in the bidding process, will still have to convince property owners along the route to donate 250 feet of right of way, room enough to build up to six lanes. However, that won’t be built until traffic studies require it and additional funding becomes available.
Zephyrhills city manager Steve Spina expressed local frustration to state lawmakers, including former mayor and new House District 38 representative Danny Burgess, during a legislative delegation last week in Land O’ Lakes.
“We believe it’s vital to southeast Pasco County and Zephyrhills to the municipal airport to have four lanes of funding as it’s built initially, and not piecemeal as we go forward,” Spina said.
State Sen. John Legg said he and Burgess want to have a town hall meeting to discuss some of the city’s transportation issues in January or February. The east-west corridor of the county, the Lutz Republican said, is becoming more congested because of the residential growth there.
The meeting, Legg said, could help the lawmakers decide how to move forward, and possibly move some projects up on the list, including the possibility of making the State Road 56 extension four lanes.
The Zephyrhills City Council may not wait that long. It was scheduled to vote on a resolution during its regular Monday meeting imploring state lawmakers to back the expansion of State Road 56 to the city now, rather than later. The resolution cited, among other things, the residential growth in the city, as well as $5 million in facility improvements at Zephyrhills Municipal Airport, which also serves as an industrial park for the city.
Councilmembers want FDOT to revisit its construction schedules, and based on new budget priorities from state lawmakers, fund the four-lane expansion.
Lenz doesn’t want the transportation discussion to stop at State Road 56, however. He feels it’s time the state look at finally widening State Road 54 — something that has been talked about for more than a half-century — and which has been widened everywhere except one last major stretch between the eastern side of Wesley Chapel to Zephyrhills.
FDOT has approved widening that road to where it meets Morris Bridge Road and Eiland Boulevard, but still won’t take that final leap into downtown Zephyrhills.
“In comparison to the other ideas … (State Road) 54 is absolutely the best option,” Lenz said. “It will be less expensive than all the other options suggested” as rights of way have already been acquired, usually a costly and time-consuming process in building a new road.
Published December 10, 2014
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