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Barrels become a common site as region’s roads are a work in progress

TAMPA — Call it the year of the road grader.

Virtually every major road system in the Tampa Bay area will have some sort of construction underway in 2014. From Clearwater to Spring Hill and from the Sunshine Skyway to Wesley Chapel, drivers won’t be able to avoid detour signs and earth-moving equipment.

Fresh from the near completion of the massive Interstate 4/Selmon Expressway connector, the Florida Department of Transportation is focusing on a long list of road projects also underway.

“We have numerous transportation projects on major corridors and on the interstate system in the Tampa Bay area,” said department spokeswoman Kristen Carson. “These projects will help bring jobs to the local economy, strengthen regional connectivity and accommodate current and future traffic growth.

“The motoring public will continue to see more construction in 2014,” she said.

Building and maintaining roads is no easy task, and never, it seems, is it done. Here’s a crib sheet on what you may see in your travels this year, beginning with those that likely will pose the biggest headaches for commuters:

Interstate 275 widening from east of State Road 60 to the Hillsborough River bridge in Tampa:

Project length: 4.2 miles

Estimated construction cost: $215.4 million

Start: July 2012

Estimated completion: fall 2016

The state is widening the heavily traveled stretch of I-275 just west of downtown. The project will reconstruct all of the southbound lanes in that area as well as northbound lanes from east of State Road 60 to Himes Avenue. When completed, the interstate will have four through-lanes in each direction and a flatter roadway without the steep humps at bridges over crossroads. That will improve sight distance and help move traffic on and off the interstate. Motorists can expect night lane closures and detours; engineers have developed a traffic control plan designed to reduce driver confusion. Though there will be some lane closures during the project, most of the work will be done at night. During peak travel hours, three lanes in each direction will remain open.

Widening of Veterans Expressway from Memorial Highway to Van Dyke Road:

Project length: 11 miles

Estimated Cost: $386 million

Start: 2013

Estimated completion: 2015

This project, designed to relieve congestion and traffic jams for the 167,000 daily commuters on the toll road, is divided into five separate phases and will double the capacity of the highway from four to eight lanes by adding two new lanes in each direction. Because of right-of-way constraints and surrounding development, this construction represents the last physical widening of Veterans Expressway. Improvements include reconstruction of 38 existing bridges and construction of three new bridges. The project includes installation of all-electronic tolling, so vehicles need not slow down to pay tolls. By mid-2014, the Veterans Expressway will eliminate cash toll collection in favor of all-electronic tolling. After the conversion, motorists who use the expressway must have a SunPass prepaid account or they will be mailed a bill.

I-275 bridge and shoulder widening from Floribraska Avenue to Yukon Street:

Project length: 4.2 miles

Estimated construction cost: $30 million

Start: June 2012

Estimated completion: fall 2014

The state is widening the bridges and shoulders of the interstate from downtown northward to create a more consistent shoulder width for northbound and southbound lanes, which will allow vehicles to pull all the way out of travel lanes for breakdowns and accidents. The major work will be the median shoulders. Partial demolition and widening will occur on 13 pairs of bridges, and the grass and guardrail in the median will be replaced by a concrete barrier wall to match up with medians to the north and south. Three overhead message signs will be replaced by improved signs with color displays. The construction phases are designed so all existing lanes of traffic and interchange ramps will be open during peak traffic hours. Lane closures and construction work largely will take place at night.

Interstate 75 widening from Fowler Avenue to State Road 56:

Project length: 11.4 miles

Construction cost: $95.3 million

Start: October 2011

Estimated completion: Spring 2016

The state is widening Interstate 75 from four to six and eight lanes from Fowler Avenue to State Road 56 in Pasco County. During the project, traffic will move on at least three through-lanes in each direction; upon completion, there will be auxiliary lanes near interchanges to improve traffic flow entering and exiting the highway. Work will include resurfacing existing travel lanes, retaining-wall construction, drainage improvements, pond construction, improved lighting and traffic signal work on Fowler Avenue, Fletcher Avenue and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard. Three new bridges will be constructed, including the replacement of the I-75 bridges over Bruce. B. Downs Boulevard and the westbound Fowler Avenue bridge over the Hillsborough River. Sixteen other bridges will be widened as part of the project.

Southbound I-75 exit ramp work at the S.R. 60 interchange in Brandon:

Project length: one mile

Estimated construction cost: $14.2 million

Start: April 2013

Estimated completion: fall 2014

Once completed, the southbound exit to S.R. 60 will have an auxiliary lane that begins about one mile north of the existing exit point and will become a two-lane ramp, replacing the existing single-lane ramp and extending toward S.R. 60. Once the new ramp is in place, southbound I-75 traffic will be shifted to the right to allow the existing bridge decks over the CSX railroad tracks and Woodberry Road to be rebuilt. Lane closures will take place mostly at night.

I-75 bridge deck replacement over Harney Road:

Project length: span of the bridge

Estimated construction cost: $2.3 million

Start: July 2013

Estimated completion: spring 2014

The state is rebuilding both the northbound and southbound I-75 bridges over Harney Road, between I-4 and Fowler Avenue. The project includes replacing the deck sections of the bridge and installing drainage. Motorists can expect limited night lane closures and a reduction of the speed limit from 70 mph to 60 mph through the construction zone. Three lanes in each direction will be maintained on I-75 at all times during the day.

I-275 from Manatee County to the Sunshine Skyway:

Project length: 5.8 miles

Estimated construction cost: $4.1 million

Start: January 2013

Estimated completion: spring 2014

The state is installing message signs, cameras, vehicle detectors, a travel-time system and fiber-optic cable along I-275 in Manatee County from I-75 to the Sunshine Skyway. The sensors and cameras provide data to view traffic speed and volume, providing motorists “real time” traffic information. It also enables quicker response to traffic incidents such as accidents, disabled vehicles and other roadway problems. The project is not expected to affect traffic passing over the bridge.

Typically, six to eight projects take place on the interstates around Tampa Bay at any given time, said state transportation department spokesman John McShaffrey.

“Motorists will encounter the most construction along the I-275 and I-75 corridors this year,” he said. “Increasing I-75 to six lanes will be a priority as this expansion continues northward in Pasco County and gets started in Hernando County.”

The projects have been in the works for years, he said. Most interstate projects are part of a master plan developed in the late 1980s, he said, “and are being constructed as money is appropriated.”

On lesser roads, but which still carry lots of traffic, these construction projects are taking place in 2014:

U.S. 19 is scheduled for upgrades from northern Pasco County clear down to Clearwater.

The state Department of Transportation says U.S. 19 is part of a five-phase plan that stretches from S.R. 60 in Clearwater to the Pasco/Hernando county line.

To the north, U.S. 19 will gain a continuous right turn lane between S.R. 52 and the Pasco/Hernando county line, a distance of nearly 8.1 miles. The project includes a sidewalk and improvements and provisions for bicyclists. The project began last year and will cost $18.5 million. The state also plans to repave U.S. 19 along that stretch in a phase that stretches 7.3 miles and costs $28 million. The work began in October 2012 and is expected to be completed late in 2014.

Three separate projects along U.S. 19 are scheduled to take place this year in Pinellas County, including a $76.6 million phase that will remove traffic signals at Republic Drive and Curlew Road in Dunedin and add frontage roads along U.S. 19 for easy access to businesses there.

The state also plans to remove the signal on U.S. 19 at Enterprise Road and permanently close the intersection. Access will be made through one-way frontage roads along U.S. 19, connecting existing frontage roads at Sunset Point Road and Countryside Boulevard. The $113.5 million project that covers 1.1 miles is expected to be completed in the summer of 2015.

The 2.7-mile project to remove traffic signals on U.S. 19 between Whitney Road and S.R. 60 and build two new interchanges at Seville Boulevard and Belleair Road began in 2009 and is expected to be completed by the summer of 2015.

Other projects slated for 2014:

The Alexander Street extension in Plant City will wrap up in the spring. The $14.8 million project adds a new road north of Alexander Street between I-4 and McIntosh Road and widens the existing State Road 39 between McIntosh Road and Knights Griffin Road. When finished, the entire corridor will be four lanes with medians and paved shoulders.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard east of Tampa is undergoing a widening project that stretches from Highview Road to Parsons Avenue. It should be wrapped up by next month. The road will be four lanes with a center left turn lane, and new sidewalks on both sides.

Dale Mabry Highway will be resurfaced from County Line Road to Brinson Road. The project is slated to begin this month.

The Pinellas Bayway replacement project should wrap up in the fall of 2014.

State Road 694/Gandy Boulevard reconstruction project in Pinellas County is expected to begin this spring. The project will widen the road to six lanes in one stretch and add frontage roads that will parallel the main highway. Pedestrian and bicycle lanes will be incorporated in the project.

Ulmerton Road from west of 38th Street to west of I-275 will be widened to three lanes in each direction and includes the replacement of the Roosevelt Bridge. The $20.5 million project, which stretches two miles, began in April 2013 and is expected to last until spring of 2016.

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