The daily commute is about to get tougher for thousands of drivers with the start of a $155 million widening of Interstate 75 in southern Pasco and northern Hillsborough counties.
Drivers are already seeing road crews and orange barrels in southern Pasco, and work to shift traffic on northbound I-75 between State Road 56 and County Road 54 in Wesley Chapel is getting under way, Florida Department of Transportation spokesman John McShaffrey said.
As that work continues, crews in northern Hillsborough are expected to start a second widening this fall from just south of Fowler Avenue to State Road 56, an 11-mile stretch.
DOT's goal is to eventually join the two projects in order to widen a combined 15 miles of interstate from Fowler Avenue to Wesley Chapel. Most of that stretch will be expanded from four lanes to eight, including an auxiliary lane in each direction to help drivers enter and exit the highway.
Auxiliary lanes won't be added to the 3-mile stretch between Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and SR 56 because of longer and wider ramps at those interchanges, McShaffrey said.
Although drivers will see lane shifts, they won't see fewer lanes during construction. McShaffrey noted motorists will need to be careful nonetheless.
"You need to expect the unexpected. There may be some lane shifts you didn't see from the last time you drove it," he said.
About 75,000 to 100,000 motorists drive the Wesley Chapel to northern Hillsborough stretch daily.
In the planning stages for decades, the I-75 widening had taken a back seat to bigger projects on Interstates 4 and 275 in Hillsborough. Housing growth over the past decade in southern Pasco and northern Hillsborough finally spurred the project.
"It's been on the radar for a while," McShaffrey said. "The Tampa interstate study goes back to the 1980s. It wasn't needed back then, but they could see there'd be a need for a widening in the future."
The work is expected to last through the fall of 2015, although construction in southern Pasco could end by 2013.
Workers in northern Hillsborough will need to widen bridges over the Hillsborough River, as well as Fowler and Fletcher avenues, adding to the overall timetable. Workers also will widen some ramps at interchanges and engineers will install overhead message boards, cameras and traffic sensors to monitor traffic flow and warn motorists of delays.