The weak economy is giving a boost to the Bruce B. Downs Boulevard widening project, and that could bring relief for construction-weary motorists.
The cost of road projects has dropped significantly since the economy went south in 2008, Hillsborough transportation officials say.
The result for Bruce B. Downs: millions in savings that can be spent elsewhere on the project.
When officials bid out phases B and C of the widening — from Palm Springs Boulevard to Pebble Creek Drive — they budgeted $74 million.
But when contractors' bids came back in 2008, officials were astonished. The final price was $32 million less than anticipated.
Instead of plowing the savings back into road work elsewhere, county commissioners directed the money to phase A, from Bearss Avenue to Palm Springs Boulevard.
The savings cover almost the entire first phase's $35 million budget and have pushed it one to two years ahead of schedule.
Work to acquire land and move utilities is ongoing, but construction should start in six months, county spokesman Steve Valdez said.
Construction costs are down across Florida, says Bob Burleson, president of the Florida Transportation Builders Association in Tallahassee.
But unlike the Bruce B. Downs work, which benefited from the economic downturn, most governments that realized savings directed that money back into their capital improvement budgets because they lack the tax revenue to take on major projects.
Burleson estimates that costs for road projects are down 15 percent to 20 percent statewide from five years ago, mostly due to lower labor costs. The industry has shed about 50 percent of its work force since 2008.
"The outlook for the next year or two is not very good," he said. "The DOT is doing a good job putting out work, but local governments are strapped. They just don't have any money."
At least motorists on Bruce B. Downs are benefiting.
Construction on phase A is expected to finish in late 2014, instead of 2015. Phases B and C will end in early 2013. The fourth section, phase D, from Pebble Creek to the county line, hasn't been budgeted.
Anything that accelerates the work schedule is immensely welcome, said landscaper Randy Strain, 49.
Strain said he avoids Bruce B. Downs whenever possible. Between the traffic, detours and near round-the-clock construction, the drive is so frustrating that Strain has turned down jobs rather than travel on Bruce B. Downs.
"Any time I see a job from Tampa Palms, I dread it," he said. "Every day it's a headache and it's like this any time of the day. Just get it done."