CLEARWATER — The end may be in sight for a seemingly interminable construction project on U.S. 19 in north Pinellas County.
Gov. Rick Scott announced Friday the state Department of Transportation has put aside $4.8 million to get cars on the main highway by October and to finish the project completely by March 2015, nine months ahead of schedule.
The road expansion project, which began in fall 2009, runs 2½ miles from State Road 60 to Whitney Road.
A majority of the new money, $3.2 million, will go to the contractor for extra workers and construction hours. The carrot to encourage the contractor to go the extra mile and finish early is a $1.6 million incentive for hitting three key deadlines.
Scott made the announcement at the Embassy Mobile Home Park on the edge of the construction zone on U.S. 19, alongside state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, state Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, and Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad.
When the governor noted that all cars would be off the service roads by October, a woman interrupted to ask if he really meant October of this year.
“We’re going to speed it up, so hopefully all of our businesses stay in business and add more jobs,” Scott said.
The $112 million project was running a year behind schedule and has been a perpetual source of traffic jams and headaches for commuters and business owners along the busy commuter stretch of U.S. 19
The most recent completion date was the middle of 2015. Under the new timetable, southbound bridges over State Road 60 and Seville Road will open by April.
Both directions of the entire stretch will be open by October and other aspects of the project will be finished by March 1.
Hubbard Construction will be paid portions of the $1.6 million for each met deadline. The money will decrease with each late day.
“Looking around the room at the body language and the head nodding, I think that we’ve got some satisfied folks here,” Latvala said. “Obviously this has been a tough situation.”
Latvala said he has received calls from several business owners along the highway who have suffered financially during the prolonged construction. He praised Scott and the DOT for responding.
Mobile home park residents, business owners and county and city officials from Largo and Clearwater had an opportunity to question transportation officials about how they could ensure the project would meet such a quick deadline.
Particularly onerous to businesses has been work on the U.S. 19 service road, Enterprise Road, which has made access to stores and restaurants a challenge.
Barring a tropical storm or other unforeseen troubles, Prasad said he’s confident the work on U.S. 19 will be done on time, though he urged continued patience.
“It’s like you’re rebuilding your house completely while you’re living in your house,” he said of the road project.
“You’ve got a lot of people going through and, while they’re going through it, we’ve got to build around it.”