LARGO — There is an electronic sign that greets drivers headed east on Ulmerton Road just past 119th Street. Its message is too big to fit on the screen all at once.
"ROAD WORK BEGINS," the sign flashes every few seconds, followed by "8/2/11 EXPECT DELAYS."
Drivers who see only the second half of that message might think there will be construction on Ulmerton Road on Tuesday. They'd be partly right. There will also be work there for at least 774 days after that.
The Florida Department of Transportation will spend the next two-plus years widening 1.5 miles of Ulmerton Road from four lanes to six between 119th Street and the Seminole Bypass Canal, just east of Largo Mall.
The work is needed to improve the capacity of the road there, according to Kris Carson, DOT's District 7 spokeswoman.
But one local business owner questions the need for the extra lanes and worries about potentially glacial traffic scaring off potential customers.
"I'm not very happy about it … I think it's going to have a large impact on business right here," said Charlie Cole, president of Charlie Cole's Auto Mall at 11407 Ulmerton Road.
"There's a lot of traffic here in the mornings and afternoons, but I'm looking out here right now, and there's very little traffic," Cole said Thursday morning about 11.
The $16.9 million widening project is slated to finish in November 2013, but it might take longer with bad-weather days, Carson said.
At that pace, it will take longer to add two lanes to 1.5 miles of Ulmerton Road than it took to build Raymond James Stadium (nearly two years) but less time than it took to build Tropicana Field (three-plus years).
The project is slowed considerably by the need to move utility lines and build additional water and gas lines for Largo, Clearwater and Pinellas County, Carson said. Pepper Contracting Services is the lead contractor for the project.
Construction will start Tuesday at 119th Street and work its way east over the next two years, Carson said. In addition to widening the road from four lanes to six, the DOT will add more turn lanes and replace traffic signals and poles with hurricane-resistant upgrades.
As the sign says, drivers should expect delays. Most of the work will be done during the day, according to the DOT, but there will also be lane closures at night and work on weekends.
News researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or firstname.lastname@example.org.