BROOKSVILLE — A critical leg of the long-awaited widening of Cortez Boulevard to six lanes from U.S. 19 to the Suncoast Parkway will begin late next year or in early 2013, years earlier than expected, county officials announced Tuesday.
The first section planned from U.S. 19 to Mariner Boulevard was set for construction in 2013 but expanding Mariner to the parkway was considered by state transportation officials as a candidate for funding in 2025.
County officials learned late last week that it will now be constructed at the same time as the first leg, which has also been bumped up a year. Plans to resurface the four lanes of Cortez from the parkway east to Wiscon Road also have been bumped up a year to 2012.
The entire project, from Wiscon to U.S. 19, will be 6.1 miles.
"These are three adjacent projects within the same corridor,'' said Kris Carson, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Transportation. "By constructing them together, we will minimize impacts caused by construction.''
The DOT cost estimate for the improvements is $9 million for design, $9.6 million for purchasing right of way and $66.5 million for construction.
The project widens Cortez from four to six lanes and includes sidewalk, a shared-use path, bicycle lanes and highway lighting.
"This is a huge capacity project,'' said County Commissioner Dave Russell when he asked Transportation Services Director Susan Goebel to make the announcement at Tuesday's commission meeting. "It's a really big deal.''
Russell got the news from Donald Skelton, the district secretary for the Florida Department of Transportation. He said the agency officials "were just tickled to death'' that they could advance the project.
"They're not seeing those kinds of capacity projects get done. It's all been paving,'' Russell said.
He said the huge construction project would provide plenty of jobs spanning a couple of years as the congested roadway gets its needed improvements.
"Anyone who has been on State Road 50 knows what kind of traffic problems we had,'' Goebel told commissioners.
Environmental Service Director Joe Stapf said his department was still addressing issues related to moving utility lines but that it worked well for his staff to be able to handle those issues as construction was gearing up.
Russell said later the DOT was able to help out some of the other projects around the state because bids on road work lately have been far lower than budgeted.
"It's bargain basement,'' he said.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.