BROOKSVILLE — Work is expected to begin soon on what has turned out to be Hernando County's most controversial road project in recent history, the widening of Elgin Boulevard.
The County Commission this week accepted the low bid from D.A.B. Constructors Inc. to make the road four lanes from Mariner Boulevard to west of Village Van Gogh, also adding sidewalks and completing utility work.
Since the project was first approved four years ago, it has been the target of emotional criticism from residents largely because, for the first time in the growing county's history, the road widening meant 33 homes had to be removed or demolished.
Residents of the area were irate about the plan and, when lagging funding dragged the project out even further, the criticism intensified.
Some called for county officials to resign while others used Elgin Boulevard as the perfect example of government overspending.
While some questioned the need for the project, much of the fury focused on the county buying up properties using values from the height of the real estate boom. County commissioners have insisted that when they made the decision to buy the houses, they had no way of knowing the bottom was about to drop out of the market and that property values would soon plummet.
County attorneys continually reminded commissioners that buying up the homes, even at prices far above appraisals, was still cheaper in the long run than taking the homes by eminent domain. That legal process can drag on for years and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Other neighbors whose homes backed up to the ones that are now gone complained about the intrusion into their property. They received the promise of a privacy fence, which will be constructed as part of the project.
The criticism even continued recently with questions by one resident about the unsightly scene along the road. Piles of sand and some of the houses purchased by individuals who wanted to relocate them sat for weeks up on blocks. One house sits on a side street awaiting a move.
In all, the home purchases cost the county about $6 million.
At one point during a discussion about purchasing the homes along the roadway in 2009, county Commissioner Dave Russell called the price tag, "the price we pay for bad planning.''
He added, "but it had to be done.''
The project is expected to be completed in April 2012. Funding for the work came from a combination of sources including a state transportation grant and from impact fees.
When bids were opened for the construction last month, officials got the only piece of good news they've seen with the Elgin Boulevard project. While construction costs were estimated to run over $5 million, the bid the commission accepted was $2.5 million.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.