LAND O'LAKES — State and Pasco County transportation planners are working on an interim fix for traffic congestion at the State Road 54/U.S. 41 intersection that is simpler and much less costly than a proposed $180 million elevated highway.
The flyover plan remains on hold amid community criticism and a county task force studying traffic improvements for the entire State Road 54 corridor. In the meantime, the state Department of Transportation has suggested that extended turn lanes could ease traffic flow at the intersection, which has nearly 100,000 vehicles pass through daily. The improvements, if all are completed, carry a rough cost estimate of less than $1.4 million because no right of way is needed for the construction.
County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey shared the news with fellow commissioners during a daylong work session last week, and it drew an immediate and positive response.
"That's huge," commission Chairman Mike Moore said.
Among the ideas:
• For eastbound traffic on SR 54 approaching the intersection, the state proposes to extend the length of the right-turn lane at U.S. 41 nearly fivefold from 215 feet to 1,050 feet. The inside left-turn lane, now measuring 350 feet long, would be extended to 750 feet, and the outside left-turn lane would be even longer, growing to 875 feet total. The cost estimate is $1.04 million.
"This will most likely be our top priority," County Engineer Margaret Smith said via email. "It is also the most extensive/expensive improvement, but will most likely offer the biggest bang for the buck."
• Westbound vehicles on SR 54 would see the existing right-turn lane at U.S. 41 lengthened from 360 feet to 500 feet. No changes would be made to the left-turn lanes. Estimated cost: $126,000.
• The two left-turn lanes at SR 54 used by southbound traffic on U.S. 41 would be lengthened about 10 percent to 475 feet. The right-turn lane would be lengthened from 320 feet to 475 feet. The projected cost for both extensions is $199,000.
The turn lanes for northbound traffic on U.S. 41 would not change because "these turn lane lengths have already been maximized," the DOT said.
"It looks on paper that this is a viable, interim improvement, particularly the west leg," where SR 54 traffic is heading east, said Jim Edwards, transportation planning manager for Pasco's Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Several questions remain, including when the improvements could be done and who would pay for design and construction. Despite the uncertainties, the proposed changes were greeted enthusiastically.
"I think everyone recognizes the need to get this done," Smith said.
"I'm grateful that there is some progress going to be made other than this intersection be put on the shelf until they decide on the overhead highway — which is unacceptable," said Christie Zimmer of Land O'Lakes, who sits on the MPO's advisory committee and on the county task force studying the entire SR 54 corridor.
The DOT announced a year ago that it was hitting the brakes on the U.S. 41/SR 54 flyover plan until the county task force completed its work. At the time, the state had unveiled two proposals to carry SR 54 traffic on elevated lanes above the intersection. Cost estimates ranged up to $180 million and, under one scenario, 23 businesses, two homes and a Pasco County fire station near the intersection would be affected.
A flyover at the intersection has been discussed for more than two decades, starting when the state pulled the plug on a planned east-west highway through Lutz to connect the Veterans Expressway and Interstate 75. Later, a new interchange at I-75 and SR 56 and the widening of both SR 54 and SR 56 to six lanes turned that stretch of highway into the de facto east-west route. Projections call for daily traffic through the intersection to more than double to 208,000 vehicles over the next 25 years.