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Haggling by TECO, developers could delay SR 56 extension in Pasco

WESLEY CHAPEL — The entire three-mile State Road 56 extension was supposed to be finished by September. Now officials say they'll be lucky if the first leg is open by then.

"There is a good possibility the roadwork will not be completed before August," said Kris Carson, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Transportation.

DOT officials have said the road, which will link Mansfield Boulevard in Meadow Pointe to SR 56 and The Shops at Wiregrass, cannot open until improvements at the intersection of SR 56 and Bruce B. Downs are completed. That intersection, set to be 10 lanes, will be among the largest in Florida, DOT officials have said.

The entire expansion, when complete, will extend east to Meadow Pointe Boulevard.

In March 2008, officials originally promised the entire stretch would be open in 18 months. Mansfield Boulevard has two schools at the northern dead end, John Long Middle and Wiregrass Ranch High.

The expansion, to be paid for by developers, has hit repeated snags as the various parties try to resolve issues. The first leg was supposed to be done when the mall opened on Oct. 30, but developers were able to only complete the stretch adjacent to the mall.

The latest delay is due to haggling over utility lines. Tampa Electric Co., which owns the lines, says the project is being done by developers, and the utility should be reimbursed for moving the lines so the intersection improvements can be made.

Tampa Electric spokesman Rick Morera said initial costs of moving the lines totals at least $600,000. Without the reimbursement, the utility's 667,000 customers would end up bearing the expense.

"Florida law is clear," he said. "If it's a developer-driven project, the developer pays and not our ratepayers."

The county and DOT maintain that the project is public, and Tampa Electric is liable for the costs of moving its lines.

"There have been negotiations in the County Attorney's Office," said Michele Baker, the county's chief assistant county administrator.

County Commissioner Pat Mulieri, whose district includes the road, expressed her disappointment.

"The people have waited a long time," she said. "We worked very diligently to build that road. I've been in all the meetings and (the utilities issue) never came up. The people are going to be very angry, and I don't blame them."

County officials need the roadwork to be done before crews begin widening State 54, so as to give drivers an alternate route.

School officials, who pressed for the opening of a small part of Mansfield near the school sites, say traffic is not a huge problem. Still, they would like the SR 56 project to be done to give parents and students another way in and out.

"We need closure for our schools," assistant superintendent Ray Gadd said.

Residents of Meadow Pointe, who have had only one way in and one way out of the development for years, say they're ready for the road to open. However, they also are worried that once it opens, Pasco County will be pressured to let Mansfield be connected to Kinnan Road in Hillsborough County. The two barricaded roads now dead end just feet from each other.

Pasco has opposed the connection, saying it would put too much traffic on County Line Road. They said they would not consider the link until Mansfield could be connected to SR 56.

"It's going to be a nightmare," said Mark Glassman, a resident and member of the Community Development District Board. "Mansfield will be the new short cut between Cross Creek and State Road 56."

Lisa Buie can be reached at buie@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4604.

Haggling by TECO, developers could delay SR 56 extension in Pasco 05/02/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 2, 2009 1:52pm]
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