Intersection work may be just the start
Construction will start later this year on one of the city’s most congested intersections, but city leaders say the improvements shouldn’t stop there.
Zephyrhills, Pasco County and the Florida Department of Transportation will each pay about $500,000 to upgrade the intersection of Gall Boulevard and County Road 54. Last week the Zephyrhills City Council adopted a resolution asking the county to “resurrect the project” and spend the money needed to widen CR 54 past Zephyrhills High School, all the way to 23rd Street.
“It’s one of the worst congested roadways we have in the city, and it’s going to get worse when the intersection project is finished,” Council President Lance Smith said.
That’s because the intersection improvements extend 890 feet east of U.S. 301. Smith said the traffic will bottleneck right in front of the high school.
The city and county had previously agreed to split the $10 million cost of widening the road, and they already completed the preliminary engineering work. But Pasco County put the brakes on the project, citing declining revenue.
Debbie Bolduc, the county’s administrator for engineering services, said the project is funded in the next round of Penny for Pasco. “But we won’t start collecting those dollars until January of 2015,” she said.
Smith said the city and county should go ahead and fund the design work so the Penny funds can be used for construction. “Mainly, we just want to get it going again,” he said. “We’ve always had it pretty well committed. To us, it’s a fairly big project, financially.”
Preliminary plans called for widening the segment between Gall and 12th Street to a four-lane divided road with bike lanes, sidewalks and a 10-foot multipurpose trail.
The segment between 12th and 23rd streets would be a two-lane divided road with bike lanes, sidewalks and a multipurpose trail.
Bolduc said the county still needs to acquire 47 feet of right-of-way from the school district, and the high school needs time to reconfigure its baseball field.
“The school board needs to be involved,” she said. “They have to be able to plan for it as well.”
The city council also passed a resolution last week asking the Pasco County Metropolitan Planning Organization to move the next phase of the State Road 56 extension higher on the county’s priority list.
The road dead-ends at Meadow Pointe Boulevard, but it is slated to extend east to Morris Bridge Road and to U.S. 301.
Those segments are classified as “developer driven,” which means the developers would finance the design and construction of the roadway.
Smith said city leaders want the MPO to remove the “developer driven” label so the county could apply for state funding for the extension.
Timing is key, he said, because the highway is in House Speaker Will Weatherford’s district.
“It will benefit our industrial area and our airport because people will be able to drive straight to I-75,” Smith said.
The segment from Morris Bridge Road to U.S. 301 would dissect one of east Pasco’s largest remaining cattle ranches, the Thomas family’s Two Rivers Ranch. “We obviously own about three miles of that, so we’re a big player,” owner Robert Thomas said.
The Thomas family has been planning for the road extension for years and won approval for an amendment to the county’s comprehensive plan that would allow for the future development of up to 6,000 homes on the ranch.
“My first conversation about Highway 56 started back when Bob Martinez was governor,” Thomas said.
“The road definitely needs to get built, but as for when it will happen, my crystal ball’s pretty cloudy.”
MPO Director Jim Edwards said the road’s classification wouldn’t prevent the county from applying for state funding. “We have in the past taken off that note, but whether it has developer contribution or not, that wouldn’t hold the project up from public expenditures,” he said.
“The fact is, the money’s got to come from somewhere.”