Saturday, September 22, 2018
Transportation

Costs nearly double for I-75 interchange in Pasco County

NEW PORT RICHEY –— The cost of a diamond is getting pricier.

The planned "divergent diamond" interchange, intended to ease traffic congestion at Interstate 75 and State Road 56 where Lutz, Land O’Lakes and Wesley Chapel intersect, is going to be more expensive than originally projected.

So expensive that the local transportation planning board had to hold a public hearing to amend its adopted spending plan — a requirement whenever project costs go up by 20 percent.

In this case, it was a lot more. The construction cost nearly doubled from $21.1 million to $40.2 million, according to the public hearing notice of the Pasco Metropolitan Planning Organization, made up of county commissioners and elected city officials.

Kris Carson, regional spokesperson for the state Department of Transportation, said the price has declined a little since. As design work progressed, the construction cost dropped and now is estimated at $37.4 million, she said via e-mail.

Even so, the higher costs "really took us back,’’ said Kelly Miller, chairman of the citizens committee that advises the transportation board. The DOT briefed the citizens panel on the rising prices Jan. 28.

MPO members, however, appeared non-plussed. At the Feb. 22 hearing, they voted unanimously to amend the transportation plan to include the higher spending without asking if anyone from the public was there to comment.

It apparently didn’t matter. Nobody was.

But the lack of a public vetting by the MPO didn’t go unnoticed.

"I’m surprised nobody questioned that. Why would you not question that?’’ Christie Zimmer, a member of the citizens committee, asked afterward.

The price escalated because the state had to revise the length and width of the earth retaining walls, traffic rails and guardrails, plus it redesigned the paving and plans to add a permanent sheet pile wall and high-mast lighting, the public hearing notice stated.At the MPO hearing, however, the only questions focused on the construction time line.

Bill Jones, DOT’s regional development director, said construction bids are scheduled to be opened in June, with work likely to begin in the late summer or early fall. The project is expected to be completed in 26 months.

Carson said the higher costs will be covered by a statewide contingency reserve account and will not delay other DOT work planned for Pasco County.

"In the zero sum game, that is transportation funding. That $16 million will not be available for another project, but woo, we get ours,’’ said Craig Casper, the MPO transportation planning manager.

The divergent diamond is so named because it diverts traffic patterns associated with the traditional diamond-shaped highway interchange. In this case, the interchange will eliminate waits for left-hand turns by motorists entering I-75. The new east-west traffic pattern on SR 56 will divert vehicles to left lanes for a short distance. Then they either enter the interstate without pause or continue as through traffic by returning to right lanes.

The rebuilt interchange is expected to ease the bottleneck in the fast-growing area where rush-hour traffic routinely backs up on I-75’s northbound exit lane to SR 56. Demand for the improvement was so great that DOT moved up its construction schedule by six years to begin the work in 2018.

Reach C.T. Bowen at [email protected] or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2

RELATED: DOT advances interchange project.

Comments
Could Trump starve a Tampa Bay transit project of federal funds?

Could Trump starve a Tampa Bay transit project of federal funds?

ST. PETERSBURG — The Central Avenue Bus Rapid Transit line has succeeded where other Tampa Bay transit projects have failed. The project aimed at connecting downtown to the beaches has avoided anti-transit sentiment while securing money and support f...
Published: 09/21/18
Local hospital groups back transportation sales tax plan with $175,000 in donations

Local hospital groups back transportation sales tax plan with $175,000 in donations

TAMPA — Two local hospital groups have donated a combined $175,000 to the group campaigning for a sales tax hike to pay for transportation improvements. They say the ballot measure will increase access to medical care and provide transportation optio...
Published: 09/14/18
Hillsborough MPO holds Southshore transit meeting

Hillsborough MPO holds Southshore transit meeting

Hillsborough MPO will hold an open house from 5:30-7 p.m. on Thursday (Sept. 13) at the SouthShore Regional Library, 15816 Beth Shields Way in Ruskin. The open house will cover the SouthShore Transit Study reevaluation.All residents who want better t...
Published: 09/06/18
Updated: 09/10/18

Pasco road planners push path beneath U.S. 19 bridge for pedestrian safety

PORT RICHEY — More than a decade after the city of Port Richey studied the idea of building a pedestrian path beneath U.S. 19 at the Pithlachascotee River bridge, county transportation leaders are poised to do likewise.Later this month, the Pasco Met...
Updated one month ago
State: BRT could get its own lane on new Howard Frankland Bridge

State: BRT could get its own lane on new Howard Frankland Bridge

The Florida Department of Transportation says it has a back-up plan to create a dedicated lane for bus rapid transit on the new Howard Frankland Bridge in case the current plan for BRT doesn’t work out.A draft request for proposals to design and buil...
Updated one month ago
Serious upgrade, from golf carts to Teslas, for riders of free downtown shuttle

Serious upgrade, from golf carts to Teslas, for riders of free downtown shuttle

TAMPA — Many people who ride the free, app-based shuttle known as the Downtowner are getting a shock this month when their driver pulls up.Since it launched two years ago, the service has relied on a fleet of GEM electric vehicles that look like elon...
Updated one month ago
Part of Selmon Expressway shut down until Monday morning

Part of Selmon Expressway shut down until Monday morning

Due to construction activities, crews have temporarily shut down the Selmon Expressway westbound at Gandy Boulevard with the anticipation that it will reopen before Monday’s morning rush hour traffic.In the meantime, travelers can use the detour at E...
Updated one month ago