Editor’s Note: D.A.B. Constructors, Inc., the company which has fallen behind on road work at the State Road 56 interchange at Interstate 75 in Pasco County must pay $10,000 for each day it is behind schedule. An earlier version of this story gave a different figure.
WESLEY CHAPEL — Over the last several years, the developers of the Cypress Creek Town Center have spent $25 million for road improvements in the fast growing State Road 56 corridor near the Interstate 75 interchange. Other nearby businesses have also paid their share.
But for those who traverse the area regularly, the months-long delays in promised improvements at that interchange, the so-called diverging diamond, have meant ongoing congestion with no end in sight.
Pasco County Commission Chairman Mike Moore knows this well, since he travels the road daily. Prompted by a letter from merchants frustrated with road work delays, he took off on contractor D.A.B. Constructors, Inc. at the last commission meeting.
Moore snapped photos of the construction zone that week, saying that he saw only a handful of workers on a sunny, pleasant day, which was not acceptable for a project so badly-needed and significantly behind schedule.
Moore said the state has agreed to not give D.A.B. Constructors future work, and he asked if the county could take a similar stand in future local road projects.
“I’m glad they stopped giving this contractor contracts,” Moore said, noting it was the first time he has ever heard of the state doing that. “They have so many projects going on now they cannot handle it.”
State officials wouldn’t say they stopped handing out future work to the contractor, but spokeswoman Kristen Carson said, “D.A.B. has committed to focus on their current projects as opposed to upcoming projects.”
Currently, D.A.B. has 11 ongoing construction projects with the Department of Transportation, totaling $281 million. The contract for the State Road 56 and Interstate 75 interchange is $33 million.
Foster Bachschmidt, chief operating officer for D.A.B., explained that the interchange reconstruction has been a unique challenge, and he was sorry to hear of the reaction from the Pasco County Commission.
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“The project is incredibly complex, with nine different phases of construction,” Bachschmidt said. “We have encountered some design issues that have prevented work from progressing at the pace initially anticipated. Additionally, we have had workforce availability issues, which we believe has mostly been overcome."
"In partnership with the FDOT, we have solved the problems, and we are now ramping the project up to achieve timely completion. We are committed to delivering this project as expeditiously as possible,” Bachschmidt said.
The Cypress Creek Town Center Property Owners Association wrote to commissioners Moore and Kathryn Starkey saying, "We are reaching out to you with hopes that Pasco County, along with our private sector partners can exert some much-needed influence upon Florida Department of Transportation District 7 in Tampa and the Headquarters in Tallahassee to bring the project in earlier than they are now projecting, which is late summer of 2022.”
Since it is a state road project, Pasco County does not have any direct pull. But after getting the letter, both commissioners reached out to David Gwynn, secretary for the Florida Department of Transportation District 7. They learned that the project was indeed months behind schedule.
Because the project was so critical, Pasco commissioners had pushed their state representatives to make the job a priority. Completion was expected in the summer of 2021. Originally, D.A.B. was given 800 days to complete the work. The state extended that deadline another 173 days, including 99 rain days and 34 holidays, pushing the projected completion into 2022.
"It’s just a shame,'' Starkey said, noting it would mean yet another holiday season would come and go before the traffic situation would improve. “It’s very unfortunate that this is happening.”
Hope Kennedy, president and chief executive officer of the North Tampa Bay Chamber, doesn’t want to see that happen either.
"It isn’t fair,'' she said. Fixing the snarled traffic mess along that corridor is a top concern for local businesses, who need for customers to have easy access.
“In any construction project, it gets worse before it gets better, but I think we’re in the worst of it,” Kennedy said, noting that sitting in parked traffic through multiple light changes is commonplace. She congratulated businesses and commissioners for trying to get the work moving forward.
Kennedy said she doesn’t buy that the job was too complicated since D.A.B. knew what they were being asked when they signed on.
Both Moore and Starkey said this wasn’t the only D.A.B. project in Pasco that has fallen behind schedule. Work by the contractor at State Road 52, State Road 54 and the recently completed Starkey Gap Trail project also have had delays, they said.
“We are disappointed to hear that Pasco County and the commission are displeased with the work performed on prior projects. We are working on addressing these concerns to the extent that is possible," Bachschmidt said.
The D.A.B. contract for State Road 56 and Interstate 75 included a provision that the contractor would pay a financial penalty if they didn’t complete the job on time. That amount, know as “liquidated damages” is approximately $10,000 per day. The letter from business owners to the county commissioners stated, “we have been led to believe this remedy hasn’t motivated D.A.B.”
The state has been working with the contractor, Moore said. In an email to Moore, Gwynn said his agency sent a “letter of concern” to D.A.B. in March "and continues to review the contractor’s progress. ... Please be assured that we are doing everything we can to hold the contractor accountable and accelerate the schedule where possible.”
Bachschmidt said his company can still bid on projects for the state but “these decisions are made by D.A.B., in partnership with the FDOT and depend on existing workload, staff resources, and upcoming projects in the FDOT work program.”
He added, “We are improving this every day and working diligently to get this project completed and into our customers' hands.”