The rolling hills of eastern Pasco County will have more trucks and cars rolling through them as the state opens its newest highway Friday.
The Florida Department of Transportation plans to open the first two lanes of the new State Road 52 Friday, providing a direct route from just east of Interstate 75 to U.S. 301 at the southern tip of Dade City. The new route should be open to the public Friday afternoon, the state said.
All four lanes of the 7-mile, $82 million construction project are expected to be open to traffic by early 2024.
The current State Road 52, north of the new route, is a meandering two-lane country road that includes a 90-degree dogleg in the town of St. Leo. It serves as the gateway to the town, the village of San Antonio, Saint Leo University and the upscale Lake Jovita Golf and Country Club before becoming 21st Street and then Meridian Avenue in downtown Dade City. The road will remain in use but will become a Pasco County-controlled highway.
The new State Road 52 begins at Uradco Place — the entrance to the One Pasco Center commerce park — and travels eastward to connect to Clinton Avenue in Dade City, ending at U.S. 301 near U.S. 98.
The opening of the new east-west highway comes amid a burst of economic activity in east Pasco.
The new road bisects land formerly known as Cannon Ranch that is now Metro Development Group’s Mirada development — a 1,600-acre project that carries entitlements for more than 4,000 homes. Closer to I-75, NorthPointe Development of Kansas City closed on the $59 million purchase of more than 220 acres of vacant industrial property in October in anticipation of developing a large-scale distribution center for Target.
“The trucks are really kind of disruptive to the areas that (the old State Road 52) runs through. With all the warehousing and distribution coming up here (in Pasco), they need to be able to move trucks,” said David Gwynn, Florida’s regional transportation secretary.
The new road, Gwynn said, is made out of concrete, a more durable surface than asphalt that will stand up better to heavy-truck traffic.
The new route also should help eliminate the daily bottleneck at the current State Road 52 and Curley Road where eastbound motorists frequently must wait several light cycles to pass through the traffic signal in San Antonio.
Planning for the new road dates back more than two decades. One of the initial proposals called for simply adding lanes to the existing two-lane road.
“I’m thrilled we don’t have six lanes through St. Leo. That would have been a tight squeeze,” said James Hallett, the town’s mayor pro tem.
Rerouting the highway to the southern edge of Dade City also sparked early concerns among some business owners in the city, who feared the loss of traffic in the downtown core could put a damper on the antique shops and restaurants in the historic district.
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“I don’t think we share that concern anymore. Most of the people just passing through are trying to get to a destination (elsewhere) and they’re really not looking to spend the day in downtown Dade City shopping and dining,” said Margaret Angell, owner of Angel Tea Room and president of the Dade City Merchants Association. “I think we’re going to be OK with that rerouting.”