TARPON SPRINGS — A gallon of gas cost just 63 cents and the average new car sold for about $5,700 when Shirley Muller first heard about a county vision to widen Keystone Road.
Thirty years later and the winding, two-lane road hasn't changed a bit, except there are far more cars on it, Muller said.
"I don't think it's ever going to happen in our lifetime," said Muller, 65, who lives on Old Keystone, about 3 miles east of the planned improvements.
But county officials say they're coming ever closer to making the dream a reality.
"We're hoping to be in construction by the end of next year," said Pete Yauch, the county's director of roads and transportation.
The project, envisioned by county officials in the late 1970s, was promised to residents when they voted to extend the Penny for Pinellas sales tax in 1997.
Since then, the $18-million price tag has jumped to $78-million.
"The overall cost of construction has skyrocketed," Yauch said. "That's the biggest cause of the price increase."
Other causes include design changes that require retaining walls in some areas to protect the roadway from erosion of adjacent sandy dunes and the cost of temporary roadway construction to keep traffic flowing while the new road is built, Yauch said.
With the economic downturn, construction bids have been coming in lower than expected on some projects, Yauch said.
"We're hoping that trend is going to continue as we get into construction here," he said.
That $78-million number does not, however, include buying the property needed to widen the road.
The county started buying rights of way about nine months ago, but has acquired only about half of the 80 parcels needed for the expansion, Yauch said. County officials have budgeted another $2.4-million for land.
The project includes widening a 3.2-mile stretch of Keystone, between U.S. 19 and East Lake Road. It also includes an extension of the Pinellas Trail from its northern end at U.S. 19, along the north side of Keystone Road, to a 4-mile unconnected strip of trail on East Lake Road that goes south to John Chesnut Sr. Park.
The design is for a four-lane, divided road with a wide median that would allow future widening to six lanes if necessary.
The road is rated at F level of service, which should improve to a C after construction, Yauch said.
The project has faced several delays. Most recently, construction was to begin in 2006. But it was hung up as the design was modified to plan for future expansion, curb costs and deal with the challenges of the sandy, hilly terrain.
Once construction begins, the project should take about 18 months, county officials said.
Rita Farlow can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4162.