A congested roadway in Zephyrhills is set to receive some long-awaited and seemingly much-needed improvements to ease traffic patterns and enhance safety overall.
The City of Zephyrhills and Pasco County have come to a cost-sharing agreement for upgrades to a portion of County Road 54 which crosses both city limits and unincorporated county areas.
The scope of the project calls for the following enhancements along a 1.31-mile stretch, east of U.S. 301 east to 23rd Street:
- Additional signage and pavement markings
- Left-hand turn lane at the Dairy Road intersection
- Right-hand turn lane and new mast arms at Wire Road, turning onto 12th Street
- Signalized intersection at 23rd Street
- Pedestrian signals and ADA sidewalk ramps at the intersections of Wire Road/12th Street, 20th Street and 23rd Street
- A 10-foot concrete multi-use path on the south side of County Road 54 adjacent to Zephyrhills High School, and a 5-foot to 6-foot path on the north side of the road, plus associated drainage
The Zephyrhills City Council on Oct. 12 unanimously approved an interlocal agreement with the county that calls for a 50/50-split on costs for the multi-million project.
An engineer’s estimate for the project’s entirety came in at $6,855,255.44, meaning the city and county each will have an estimated cost of $3,427,627.72.
The entire project will be constructed in one phase. How it’s actually funded will be handled a bit differently, however.
The county has agreed to fund all improvements east of 20th Street to east of 23rd Street, including a new signalized intersection. Any dollars leftover from their cost-sharing portion will be used to help Zephyrhills fund improvements from east of U.S. 301 to 20th Street, which is inside the city’s jurisdiction.
Also, under the agreement’s terms, the county will conduct construction engineering and inspections either by utilizing its workforce or contracting with a third party. The county has also agreed to be responsible for facilities maintenance after construction.
Initial plans outlined many years ago called for the stretch to be widened to four lanes. But, various infrastructure and logistical hurdles necessitated the project to instead feature turn lanes, traffic signals and adjacent multi-use trails.
Either way, any improvements to the roadway section are greatly needed, city leaders say.
Councilman Ken Burgess labeled the stretch “a nightmare to navigate for many, many years.”
Councilman Lance Smith similarly called it “probably one of the most congested areas, at times, in the city.”
“I think there’s some necessary segments that we need to do,” Smith said. “I’m a little disappointed that we couldn’t get the four lanes in there, but hopefully, this will help with the traffic.”
The project’s sizable price tag — and how to split funding — had been a snag over the last several months between the city and county.
That in mind, the city does have the option to terminate the agreement should receive bids exceed cost estimates for its funding portion.
Council members acknowledged it’s quite possible that project bids will come in higher than anticipated, but they said they likely still will move forward with project — unless bids come in excessively greater than the engineer’s initial projections.
Smith put it like this: “Nothing is getting cheaper to build. I mean, as much as it’s a bitter pill to swallow, I think it’s something we should go ahead and do.”
Bid opening for the project is anticipated for some time in December, with Pasco County commissioners expected to award the bid/contract in February or March.
Once that happens, Zephyrhills will make an initial payment of $1.1 million to the county within a month of the bid award. From there, the city will pay installments (estimated at $581,906.93, plus change orders) to the county each of the next four years, through fiscal year 2024-2025.
Purchase thresholds upped for small projects
In other business, the council unanimously approved a first reading ordinance amendment increasing purchasing thresholds for when quotes and sealed bids are required.
It’s part of a move to streamline smaller purchases and projects, officials say
In a staff memo, Zephyrhills City Manager Billy Poe and Zephyrhills Finance Director Ted Beason outlined how small projects have been stalled as they’re required to comply with lower, outdated thresholds ($2,500 for quotes; $20,000 for bids) instituted back in 2014.
To alleviate those issues, the altered ordinance raises proposed thresholds for quotes and bids to $5,000 and $50,000, respectively.
As an example of the ongoing threshold issue, Poe explained how a somewhat routine purchase of a new city-operated pickup truck requires council consideration if it’s greater than $20,000 — which most new trucks are — even though it received prior approval in the regular budget.
The city manager outlined other examples, too.
A damaged handrail on Green Slope Drive cost about $3,600 to repair, but the project “took a while” to complete because the city was having trouble finding three separate quotes, Poe said.
Meanwhile, a pedestrian crossing on Simons Road estimated to cost slightly more than $20,000 is being delayed because it must go out to formal bid “as opposed to taking the plans and getting three prices, and getting the project done,” the city manager said.
“It’s just slowing things down a little bit,” Poe said of the current lower purchasing thresholds. “You know, staff does a great job of finding the most cost-efficient piece of equipment or tool as they can. This just helps…of reducing some of the search time.”
Council members expressed they are on board with the threshold changes. They added there’s still transparency in such purchases and projects, as they’ll still get listed as noted items in regular council meeting packets.
“I’m OK with what we’re doing here, because you don’t want to slow things down,” Councilman Ken Burgess said. “It’s just a formality of making sure that we’re aware of it.”
A second and final reading of the amended ordinance will be considered at an Oct. 26 regular council meeting.
Published October 21, 2020