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Hillsborough County declares water emergency; road problems continue

The cold weather is gone, but the headaches it caused in Hillsborough County got worse on Thursday.

As repairs to a sunken stretch of Interstate 4 near Plant City continued, cracks forced the closure of U.S. 92, a crucial I-4 detour. Meanwhile, county officials declared a local state of emergency Thursday night, allowing people living in some 600 homes with dry wells to start getting bottled water today.

Commissioner Al Higginbotham convened the county's Emergency Policy Group, which cleared the way for emergency managers to distribute water at eight fire stations in Dover and Plant City from 9 a.m. today through Monday.

"I didn't want to wait," Higginbotham said. "We have the responsibility during this gap period to make sure people have drinking water."

The dry wells are being caused by farmers in eastern Hillsborough County dumping water on their berry crops to protect them from the recent cold weather. The heavy pumping continued to take its toll on east Hillsborough roadways Thursday.

Rush-hour motorists trying to avoid that massive conga line of taillights on eastbound I-4 lost one detour when the state Transportation Department closed U.S. 92 between Turkey Creek and Thonotosassa roads in Plant City.

The fissures, described by officials as "longitudinal cracks" in the asphalt, were discovered about noon by DOT road crews along U.S. 92 at Ritter Street and Turkey Creek and Moores Lake roads.

Transportation officials feared the cracks could turn into depressions in the asphalt. They routed traffic onto State Road 574. Traffic on eastbound I-4 in the Plant City area has been choked since Tuesday, when a depression in the roadway was discovered.

U.S. 92 had been a detour for thousands of eastbound commuters after the I-4 depression was found near Branch Forbes Road, forcing officials to funnel three lanes of eastbound traffic into one.

Workers were still pumping concrete into the ground Thursday to fill the I-4 depression, DOT spokeswoman Marian Scorza said. So far, 400 cubic yards of concrete have been pumped beneath the surface. The eastbound lanes should reopen by Monday, she said.

The empty space underground was seeming like a bottomless pit.

"They'll keep pouring in concrete until it starts coming up. Right now, they're pouring in concrete and it's still going down," Scorza said.

Sinkholes were also causing havoc on local roads. The county has closed parts of some 15 other roads, including busy stretches of North and South Branch Forbes Road west of Plant City. Another 10 sinkholes near other roads were being monitored Thursday evening.

Times staff writer Bill Varian contributed to this report.

U.S. 92 detour

U.S. 92 is closed in both directions between Turkey Creek Road and Thonotosassa Road in Plant City. Traffic will be detoured using State Road 574, known locally as Reynolds Street.

Eastbound detour: From U.S. 92, go south on Turkey Creek. Turn east on State Road 574 (Reynolds St.) and go to Alexander St. Turn left to get back on U.S. 92.

Westbound detour: From U.S. 92, go south on Alexander St. Turn west on State Road 574 (Reynolds St.) and go to Turkey Creek Road, then head north on Turkey Creek Road to U.S. 92.

How to get water

Bottled water will be supplied to residents with dry drinking water wells beginning at 9 a.m. today. Only those whose dry wells have been certified by the Southwest Florida Water Management District will be given water. About 200 of the 600 dry wells have been reviewed by the water agency and work is progressing on the rest, officials said.

The water distribution locations are:

Hillsborough County Fire Station 21, 11641 Flint Road, Thonotosassa; Station 23, 3138 Sydney-Dover Road, Dover; Station 25, 4503 Coronet Road, Plant City; Station 26, 5302 W Thonotosassa Road, Plant City; Station 30, 2526 Charlie Taylor Road, Plant City; Station 36, 116 N Dover Road, Dover; and the Plant City fire stations at 604 E Alexander St. and 809 N Alexander St.

Hillsborough County declares water emergency; road problems continue 01/14/10 [Last modified: Friday, January 15, 2010 7:16am]
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