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Lots of construction in Pasco, but no new state roads to open in 2020

[OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]  A view of State Road 56 overpass of Interstate 75 westbound in Wesley Chapel just prior to the construction state of the diverging diamond interchange.
[OCTAVIO JONES | Times] A view of State Road 56 overpass of Interstate 75 westbound in Wesley Chapel just prior to the construction state of the diverging diamond interchange.
Published Dec. 31, 2019

The signs of progress on Pasco’s portion of the state transportation network are orange barrels and fallen trees, but no new lanes of asphalt carrying traffic.

At least not in 2020.

Construction companies hired by the Florida Department of Transportation are working on more than $200 million worth of highway expansions in Pasco County. When completed, that should ease east-west travel on State Roads 52 and 54 and at the State Road 56 interchange with Interstate 75.

Patience will be drivers’ top commodity. None of the work is scheduled to be completed before 2021.

Related: Pasco on verge of building Ridge Road Extension

Pasco County, however, has ambitions to get the first lanes of the just-approved Ridge Road Extension open in 11 months.

The first improvement to the state system to wrap up, if the schedule continues as projected, will be the widening of SR 54 between Curley and Morris Bridge roads. It’s a $42.5 million project that is turning a two-lane road and the site of frequent bottlenecks into a four-lane divided highway. It is expected to be completed in summer 2021.

Related: The post-holiday gift to Pasco motorists

Some of the traffic volumes there eased in 2019 after the extension of SR 56 from Mansfield Boulevard east to U.S. 301 opened. It created the first cross-county, multi-lane highway stretching from U.S. 19 in west Pasco to U.S. 301 south of Zephyrhills. The extension is south of and parallel to the ongoing SR 54 work.

"Think about somebody that takes that route on a regular basis. It’s night and day since the 56 (extension) opened, and I’m sure the citizens can’t wait for the widening to be done there, too,'' said Pasco Commission Chairman Mike Moore.

One of the most high-profile projects is the diverging diamond interchange at SR 56 and I-75. The $33 million job isn’t expected to be done until late 2021.

Related: Costs nearly double for I-75 interchange

The project is intended to relieve traffic congestion in the rapidly growing quadrant of southern Pasco where Lutz, Land O’ Lakes and Wesley Chapel meet. State traffic counts in 2018 showed 73,500 motorists traveled SR 56 west of I-75 each day. East of the interstate, daily traffic counts dropped to 58,000 on SR 56.

What that tells you is a lot of vehicles use those exit ramps each day to head to and from Land O’ Lakes and Lutz on SR 56/54. The back-ups on the southbound entrance ramp each morning and the northbound exit ramp every evening are well documented.

The diverging diamond interchange, construction of which began in early 2019, is so named because it diverts traffic patterns associated with the traditional diamond-shaped highway interchange. In this case, the interchange will eliminate waits for left-hand turns by motorists entering I-75. The new east-west traffic pattern on SR 56 will divert vehicles to left lanes for a short distance. Then they either enter the interstate without pause or continue as through traffic by returning to lanes on the right-hand side of the road.

Crews recently began widening SR 52 from the Suncoast Parkway east to U.S. 41. The most visible signs of the work are the piles of pine and oak trees on the north side of the SR 52 where workers are clearing the right of way for the road’s path.

The current two-lane road will be widened to six lanes for 3.8 miles at a cost of nearly $50 million. The work also includes widening a one-mile portion of U.S. 41 as it approaches the SR 52 intersection, which also is the site of daily traffic back-ups, That project is expected to finish in late 2023.

Further east, SR 52 is being widened and realigned from Uradco Place to Fort King Highway, That $81 million project, turning a two-lane rural road into a four-lane divided highway, began in November and is not expected to finish until 2024.

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