Road projects require lots of lead time and money, so transportation planners often think long-term — five years ahead, a decade, sometimes more. But plenty of local projects have finally cleared all the planning hoops and are set to open in 2019. They include extra lanes on major roads, new traffic lights and improved intersections. Some will help your commute, others will make you safer. All of them are intended to make life easier. Here are 10 projects you can expect to see completed in the new year:
Helping your commute
• State Road 60 gains a lane from U.S. 301 to Falkenburg Road in Brandon
Anyone who has gone to Brandon Mall or spends time in East Hillsborough County knows the frustration of the growing traffic east of Interstate 75 on State Road 60. This $21 million project hopes to ease that by adding one lane in each direction, widening SR 60 from four lanes to six. The project, which addresses a one-mile stretch between Falkenburg Road and U.S. 301, started in May 2017. Drivers can expect relief when construction finishes in early 2019. "There is a lot of rapid growth and a lot of traffic out there," said Conrad Campbell, construction engineer with the Florida Department of Transportation. "If you're leaving the mall area or Brandon and heading west toward Tampa, the commute will be a little better."
• New east-west options in fast-growing Pasco
This one is a twofer. The state is trying to address the exploding growth in Pasco County. Drivers there are stymied by limited east-west options, so the state is expanding one road and building an entirely new one. Plans call for an additional lane in each direction for a 1.5-mile stretch of State Road 52 between Bellamy Brothers Boulevard and Old Pasco Road. The $13.4 million project, set to open in the spring, converts SR 52 to a four-lane divided roadway with medians. "There's a lot of people moving into that area, so we need to address State Road 52," Campbell said. This is just one segment; the state has plans for at least two other widening projects along SR 52. This project will help drivers who need to access I-75. Meanwhile, the state is spending nearly $60 million to build a four-lane road from Wesley Chapel to Zephyrhills. The goal is to reduce strain on often-clogged State Road 54, which is also under construction. The six-mile stretch should open by late 2019 and will also include a 10-foot-wide, multi-use trail and 5-foot-wide sidewalks, along with 7-foot-wide bike lanes in each direction. "This gives drivers another option to move east and west," Campbell said. "That area is overloaded and we're trying to free up options."
• A better solution at Park Boulevard and Starkey Road in Seminole
Few things seem more maddening than sitting at an intersection and watching the traffic light cycle through green, yellow and red multiple times before you make it through. Pinellas County is trying to calm that frustration with a $13 million project that is wrapping up its final steps after three years of construction. "This is one of the major intersections that didn't have the capacity necessary and was causing all sorts of traffic problems," said Ken Jacobs, transportation division manager in Pinellas. Officials added an additional north-south lane in each direction through the intersection, along with sidewalks and left- and right-turn lanes. An additional right-turn lane on Park Boulevard should also provide some much-needed relief, Jacobs said. "This was a difficult intersection for people to get through," Jacobs said. "This cleaned up a lot of that and made it much easier for drivers."
• A new northbound turn lane to Willow Avenue at Kennedy Boulevard in Tampa
This is another intersection that leads to hair-pulling and curse words as drivers watch the traffic light go through multiple cycles before they clear the intersection. It's not unusual for northbound traffic on Willow Avenue to back all the way up to Cleveland Avenue as drivers wait their turn, Tampa transportation director Jean Duncan said. A new left-turn lane should eliminate that backup, Duncan said. The project costs about $295,000 and will be completed sometime in 2019.
• Widening the last section of I-75 from Tampa Bay to Wildwood
The state has spent years widening I-75, a main corridor linking Tampa Bay to the rest of Florida and beyond, from four lanes to six. Construction on the last section in Hernando County adds one lane in each direction from south of U.S. 98/State Road 50 to the Hernando County line. The work should be completed by fall 2019. "This is the last piece in the Tampa Bay area," Campbell said. "We'll finally get that last little bottleneck cleared up.”
• Reopening the Pinellas Trail overpass at Alt. U.S. 19 in Tarpon Springs
Bicyclists will once again be able to commute to work using the Pinellas Trail (or ride for fun) when the Orange Street overpass at Alt. U.S. 19 opens in February. The bridge closed unexpectedly in March, eliminating the trail option that some people use to go to work and back, Jacobs said. The former steel trusses of the bridge had rusted extensively through the years and were demolished and replaced earlier this month.December 2018 The actual bridge replacement is complete, but construction teams still need to pour concrete for the approaches to the bridge, Jacobs said.
Making the ride safer
• Flashing beacon crosswalks along Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa The city has been working to make Bayshore Boulevard safer for pedestrians and bicyclists after a high-profile crash earlier this year killed a mother and her daughter.
Rapid flashing beacon crosswalks are becoming more popular throughout the Tampa Bay area as a way for people to safely cross streets outside of intersections. Tampa already installed three north of Howard Avenue earlier this year. By spring 2019, there will be four new flashing crosswalks on Bayshore south of Howard, said Duncan, the city’s transportation director. The four crosswalks will cost about $165,000 and should make it safer for people to cross between neighborhoods and the popular trail.
• Improving the intersection at Howard Avenue near Fresh Kitchen in Tampa
Anyone who has tried to grab a quick meal at Fresh Kitchen in South Tampa knows what a nightmare it can be to navigate the tricky, five-legged intersection of Howard, Deckle and De Soto avenues. It's not just hungry diners who are annoyed. Residents surrounding the popular lunch spot complain of overflowing parking and dangerous traffic in their neighborhoods. The city is spending $160,000 to realign the intersection, build sidewalks, eliminate one-ways and add angled parking. "This is one that's small, but mighty because it will really change the look of the area for the better and make it much safer for folks who are trying to get through that intersection," Duncan said.
• Adding sidewalks on Pine Street in Largo
People hoping to walk or bike to Largo's Southwest Recreation Center or catch a bus at a nearby stop will finally have a sidewalk on Pine Street to get them safely from 134th Avenue North to Wilcox Road. The county secured a community development block grant to pay for the quarter-mile of sidewalks, which should open in summer 2019. "It was an acknowledgement that there was a large segment of missing sidewalks in the Ridgecrest area," Jacobs said. "It helps build the community and give people safe pedestrian and bicycle access that everyone really deserves."
• New stoplight at 31st Street S for those exiting I-275 in St. Petersburg
The bottleneck at I-275 and 31st Street near Gibbs High School leads to dangerous U-turns and at times causes traffic to backup so far that it almost stretches onto the interstate. The city is helping to fix that by adding a traffic signal at 31st Street S. The new signal should prevent people who get frustrated by long waits from turning right off the interstate onto 31st Street and then pulling a U-turn. That illegal move just adds to the north-bound traffic trying to move along 31st, St. Petersburg transportation director Evan Mory said.
Contact Caitlin Johnston at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779. Follow @cljohnst.