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State Road 56 extension in Wesley Chapel may open sooner than expected

WESLEY CHAPEL — The long delayed State Road 56 extension might be allowed to open soon without state-required intersection improvements that were contributing to the holdup.

A representative for the Florida Department of Transportation said Friday that officials are working on a way to open the 3-mile stretch of highway even though additional lanes have not been built.

"We're working to try to get it open before school starts," DOT spokeswoman Kristen Carson said. She added that road is built but still lacks a friction coat of asphalt and striping.

Engineers hope to find a temporary fix to ensure the intersection at SR 56 and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard will function properly so the highway, which will run past two schools, can open before classes resume Aug. 24.

Until now, DOT officials had said the road, which will link Mansfield Boulevard in Meadow Pointe to SR 56 and the Shops at Wiregrass, could not open until improvements at the Bruce B. Downs intersection were 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.

The project, to be paid for by developers, was supposed to be finished by September but has been delayed by disputes among developers and utilities and local officials.

In March 2008, officials originally promised the entire stretch would be open in 18 months.

The first leg, from Bruce B. Downs to Mansfield, was supposed to be done when the mall opened Oct. 30, but developers were able to complete only the stretch adjacent to the mall.

The most recent delay was 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. The utility estimated the cost of moving the lines at $600,000 and said its 667,000 customers should not be forced to bear that burden.

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

Tampa Electric spokesman Rick Morera said Friday that the parties still were working to resolve the issue.

County officials have said the expansion is critical in order to give drivers on State Road 54 an alternate road when crews begin widening that highway.

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

State Road 56 extension in Wesley Chapel may open sooner than expected 06/05/09 [Last modified: Friday, June 5, 2009 8:06pm]

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