Pastoral scenes of as-yet untouched land in Pasco County still exist amid the office complexes, shopping centers and subdivision rooftops that dot parts of State Road 54.
But the “for sale” and “for lease” signs planted on large open fields in between those developments portend the future story for traffic counts on what is already one of Pasco County’s busiest east-west corridors.
State highway officials are ready to unveil a $16 million road project to widen the highway from east of the Suncoast Parkway to west of U.S. 41 from four lanes to six lanes. The widening will bring that section of the roadway into alignment with the existing six-lane divided highway that narrows to four lanes at the Suncoast Parkway.
Survey teams began work Feb. 9. Construction is scheduled to be completed in spring 2016.
Residents can look at the road design at an open house Feb. 24 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., at the Residence Inn at 2101 Northpointe Parkway, off State Road 54, at the Suncoast Parkway interchange and Northpointe Village. No formal presentation is planned. State road department staff will be on hand to answer questions.
The project will cover a 6.7-mile stretch of highway that passes by Long Lake Ranch, a master-planned community that has its first homes on the market.
Other subdivisions along the route are Suncoast Meadows, Suncoast Pointe, Stonegate, Concord Station and Ballantrae. Professional office complexes and the Shoppes at Sunlake Centre are other developments along the heavily traveled corridor.
State highway records for 2013 reveal that daily round-trip vehicle trips — along the segment that will be widened — ranged from 39,500 to 47,000.
In addition to extra lanes, the project includes new sidewalks and more highway lights. Bicycle lanes will remain.
A new traffic signal will be installed at Meadowbrook Drive, east of the parkway by the entrance into Suncoast Meadows and Suncoast Pointe. All existing traffic lights will stay in place.
Alberta Bland, partner and managing director at Flagship Title, welcomes the new traffic signal.
“It’s a dangerous intersection,” said Bland, whose company is in Suncoast Meadows Professional Center.
Motorists stop on an incline at Meadowbrook as they approach on the south side of State Road 54, she said. They also must look west for oncoming traffic zipping along a curve in the state highway.
“I’ve seen near accidents and accidents because of the way the street is shaped,” Bland said. “It’s difficult to see both ways especially at night.”
The traffic signal will improve safety, she said.
But widening the road is a mixed bag, she added.
“If they are going to widen it, (traffic) is going to get worse,” Bland said. “There is enough traffic that they need to do it, but they need to slow everything down.”
During construction, speed limits will be 50 miles per hour. Once the roadwork is completed, the existing limits, which range from 45 mph to 60 mph, will apply, state road officials said.
While traffic during construction won’t be a cakewalk for motorists, road officials said the widening will occur in the median, not in rights-of-way along the road’s shoulder.
“It’s a construction site, of course, but there shouldn’t be too much disruption,” said Kris Carson, a spokeswoman for the state roads department.
Roy Schleman said he sees a considerable amount of bad driving on the roadway, with some motorists speeding or texting.
And, he noted, the intersections at Ballantrae Road and Oakstead Boulevard, where there are existing traffic lights, can be as bad or worse than Meadowbrook.
But, like Bland, he thinks a traffic signal at Meadowbrook is a good idea.
Schleman owns All Insurance Underwriters in the Suncoast Meadows office complex.
“I’m a dad,” he said. “Thinking about moms and kids, I’d rather (the intersection) be safer.”
When deciding where to locate his business nearly five years ago, he rejected New Tampa because of the traffic congestion on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.
The widening of State Road 54 makes sense in view of the new development that is coming, he said. “I think it’s good to get ahead.”
But he keeps thinking about Bruce B. Downs Boulevard. “I feel we’re going to be like that in some way,” Schleman said.
Want to see the plans?
The Florida Department of Transportation is having an open house to give the public a chance to see the plans for a construction project to widen a section of State Road 54, from east of the Suncoast Parkway to west of U.S. 41 (also known as Land O’ Lakes Boulevard).
The meeting will be Feb. 24 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., at the Residence Inn, 2101 Northpointe Parkway in Lutz.
Published February 18, 2015