Seven months might seem like a long time to await a decision. But when it comes to building major roads, time isn’t always on your side.
Florida Department of Transportation District 7 secretary Paul Steinman announced to Pasco County commissioners last week that the Federal Highway Administration has approved a new interchange that will connect Interstate 75 with Overpass Road.
The project will add yet another entry into the county in an area where Wesley Chapel District Park already exists and a new high school is planned, and could even alleviate current and future congestion on State Road 52 to the north, and State Road 54 to the south.
“The exciting part of that is that it does open up the east side of the county for you once it gets developed,” Steinman said at the meeting.
The Overpass Road interchange will provide additional access in the Wesley Chapel area as well as East Pasco County, where several developments have been approved, or are in various stages of planning or construction, such as Pasadena Hills.
That is a 22,000-acre project that will create more than a dozen high-density villages that could help the area manage growth for that region over the next few decades.
To build the interchange, that portion of Overpass Road near I-75 will be expanded to four lanes with the possibility of expanding into six in the future. Eventually, the plans are to extend Overpass to connect Old Pasco Road and U.S. 301 in Zephyrhills.
The cost for the project will be more than $55 million, and while federal money will eventually be available to the county, officials have to show initially they’re able to fund the overall work on their own. Funds could come from an expanded gas tax, Penny for Pasco funds, and even mobility fees.
“Whether the state or federal government will put in any money, you can’t depend on that,” county transportation planning manager James Edwards told The Laker last January.
But the clock is ticking, county planning and development director Richard Gehring told commissioners.
“Whenever you get this finally inked and approved, you have eight years to construct,” he said. If the county fails to do that, federal approval of the project is withdrawn, and both the county and the state would have to apply all over again.
Population studies have shown the number of people who live in the area Overpass would serve will explode 400 percent to 218,000 people by 2035. Right now, just fewer than 60,000 people live in the area.
Capacity on I-75 also will increase through that area from the current 51,000 vehicles daily between State Roads 52 and 54, to 165,800 in 2040. That kind of volume would create traffic nightmares for existing interchanges in San Antonio to the north and Wesley Chapel to the south. It could even back up State Road 56 just north of the Hillsborough County line.
The county may have been waiting for months to hear back from Washington, D.C., but plans to improve Overpass Road have been afoot for more than a decade.
In 2003, county officials first looked at how the road could be improved between Old Pasco and Fort King roads, without looking at any potential connection with I-75. That changed with a new study in 2006 that gained favorable reviews from FDOT and federal highway officials.
Because the interstate is a federal road, any connections to it would have to be approved by the federal government. To show the viability of such a plan, the county produced a project development and environment study and a preliminary interchange justification report, officials said.
The county already has started to put some funds aside for this particular project to the tune of $15 million. Additional money could come from the renewed Penny for Pasco when those funds start to come in next January.
Published July 16, 2014
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