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Widening of U.S. 41 enters final stage

(ran East edition of Pasco Times)

Construction has be gun on the last leg of the nearly decadelong job of widening U.S. 41 south of Brooksville.

The project will extend from about 1,000 feet north of Spring Hill Drive to Hviezdoslav Street, about a mile north of County Line Road, for about 2.5 miles.

The widening of the road from two to four lanes is expected to cost $10.2-million, and the acquisition of additional right of way cost about $10-million, said Kris Carson, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Transportation.

Work on the first section, Pine Cabin Road to VFW Road, began in 1997. The first phase of work on the final stretch of road began Jan. 3 and is expected to be completed in the fall of next year, Carson said.

Although the road-widening project does not quite extend to County Line Road, it will reach what is anticipated to be the main path south and west to the Suncoast Parkway. In 10 years, Ayers Road, which ends on the east side of U.S. 41, will be extended west and south around Masaryktown to connect with County Line just east of the parkway, said Dennis Dix, county transportation planning coordinator.

Also called the Masaryktown bypass, the road will be built with two lanes and later widened to four, Dix said.

With the parkway, the widening of U.S. 41 and the completion of the Ayers Road extension, Dix said, "there's really going to be plenty of capacity on the (north-south) corridor."

That is not the case now, he said, especially because U.S. 41 quickly narrows to two lanes south of Powell Road. This project will ease that bottleneck, Dix said. No plans exist to widen the road through Masaryktown to County Line, Dix said, partly because there are no plans to widen the highway in northern Pasco County.

The most recently completed part of the overall project _ the widening of the State Road 50 truck bypass and U.S. 41 just south of downtown _ was the most troubled. The contractor, Smith & Co. of Stuart, finished the job in early 2003, about a year beyond its contracted completion date.

The contractor and the DOT are still fighting about the job in court, Carson said. The DOT says the company still owes more than $320,000 in fines for finishing behind schedule, but the contractor says the state's poor planning and engineering studies cost it $7.5-million.

One recently emerging problem with this project _ ruts in the pavement at the bypass and U.S. 41 _ are not related to Smith's performance, Carson said. Truck traffic on the roads, especially the bypass, is much heavier than expected and among the heaviest of any state-maintained road in the district, Carson said.

The DOT plans to repair the ruts, she said, and its officers have begun patrolling the area in search of overweight trucks.

The recent performance of the company hired for the new job _ Prince Contracting Co. of Leesburg _ indicates this project should go more smoothly, Carson said.

Prince received high scores for recent contracts with the DOT, including a grade of 92 out of 100 for a stretch of the Suncoast Parkway in southern Hernando and a score of 100 for a stretch of State Road 44.

Dan DeWitt can be reached at (352) 754-6116 or