RIVERVIEW — After nearly three years, motorists soon will say goodbye to the orange barrels on U.S. 301.
The state's $115 million widening of U.S. 301 between Boyette and Balm roads is set to be finished in two months. Workers are installing lighting, signs and signals, and laying the final layer of asphalt on the 5-mile stretch between Boyette and Big Bend roads.
That's a relief to businesses and motorists who have contended with lane shifts, detours and the ubiquitous plastic barrels since November 2008.
"They closed the entrance to our restaurant a couple times," said Candice Grenier, general manager of Kazbor's Grille, just south of Boyette Road. "We're excited now. They just put in all the street lighting, and it looks excellent."
Although it may not seem like it to drivers, the work is six months ahead of schedule, Department of Transportation spokeswoman Kris Carson said.
Initially shelved until 2020 because of budget constraints, the project got a boost in 2008 with $15.3 million in developer contributions. The county chipped in another $15.1 million to get the work started.
Developers, including those that built housing developments along U.S. 301 south of Boyette Road, were asked to pitch in because of a state rule requiring the contributions if their developments are likely to increase traffic.
About 27,000 vehicles a day use the stretch between Big Bend and Boyette roads, Carson said. That number is expected to increase to 75,000 vehicles by 2028.
In addition to widening the highway from two lanes to six, contractors installed drainage pipes, retention ponds, a sidewalk, a 12-foot-wide multipurpose path and a median.
As expected, not everybody is happy with the median — a safety measure to prevent motorists from turning left in front of oncoming traffic. Businesses are especially unhappy with the changes.
"Normally, you just turn in. Now you need to drive past the business," said Estaban Corrales, an attendant at the Laundry Room of Riverview. "If 301 gets cranking, you might be waiting for a while to make that turn."
Carson said the milelong stretch between Balm and Big Bend roads is nearly finished. All six lanes there are now open to traffic.
Elsewhere in Riverview, roadwork on Boyette Road between McMullen and Bell Shoals roads is expected to last until 2014.
The county is widening the 1 1/2-mile, two-lane stretch to four lanes. The $32 million project includes a landscaped median, sidewalks, bicycle lanes, storm water drains, new traffic signals and a pair of two-lane bridges over Bell Creek to replace the existing two-lane span.
For now, workers are clearing land, drilling holes to build the bridge supports and moving utility lines, including an ammonia pipeline used by the phosphate mining industry.
The work is the last of a three-phase widening of Boyette Road between U.S. 301 and Bell Shoals Road that began in 2003.
"Given the gridlock of traffic they've had out there for so many years due to development, once we're finished it will be all worth it, both in time and in less frazzled nerves," county spokesman Steve Valdez said.