WESLEY CHAPEL — Federal officials have given tentative support to a study that suggests building a new interchange at Interstate 75 and Overpass Road, the first of several steps in a long-range process to extend Overpass Road from the interstate east to U.S. 301 north of Zephyrhills.
Final approval of the study would be significant, though the process to add a new interchange could run a decade or more and involve multiple environmental and engineering studies. The project's price tag, including land acquisition, is estimated at more than $100 million.
The project is part of a broader push by Pasco County and state transportation officials to address existing and projected growth north of Wesley Chapel, an area within a so-called "urban service boundary" designated for development. The project's origin dates back more than 10 years.
Jim Edwards, director of Pasco's Metropolitan Planning Organization, said the aim is to give drivers options and ease congestion at interchanges at State Road 52, County Road 54 and State Road 56.
"It's a huge project and all indications from the DOT is it's just lacking formal approval by the feds and themselves. At this point it's more procedural," Edwards said.
The tentative support was revealed in emails a few weeks ago from the state's Department of Transportation. Formal acceptance from the Federal Highway Administration is expected within a few months, but that could be conditioned on the completion a broader environmental and engineering study looking at the Overpass Road extension. That study is due at the year's end, Edwards said.
"They might want to wait to make sure it's not an interchange to nowhere," he said.
The study, called an Interchange Justification Report, is a required first step to add on- and off-ramps to an interstate. Begun by the county three years ago, the study examined current and future growth patterns as well as the projected impacts of the ramps on interstate traffic.
Officials concede that while the project is intended to tackle growth, it's likely to spur development on its own, particularly near the ramps and at areas near Curley Road and Handcart Road.
Under the proposal, Overpass Road would extend east and southeast from Old Pasco Road to Curley Road and Handcart Road before veering northeast to Fairview Heights Road. Fairview Heights connects to Kossik Road, which connects to U.S. 301. The total distance is nine miles.
Extending Overpass Road is estimated to cost $120 million, though that could fluctuate depending on final designs and future construction costs. The interchange is estimated to cost $51 million.
Rich Shopes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6236.