The Diverging Diamond Interchange now under construction at the junction of S.R. 56 and I-75 is expected to alleviate the traffic issues at arguably Wesley Chapel’s most congested point. (Photo: Charmaine George)

Pasco County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) chairman Mike Moore has always taken great pride in his efforts to expedite the construction of the Diverging Diamond Interchange (DDI) at the busy junction of I-75 and S.R. 56.

With help from state legislators, what was originally scheduled for a 2024 completion was moved up and expected to be finished by the fall of 2021.

However, that date is now very much in question, which has riled Moore, who represents District 2, which includes most of Wesley Chapel.

“It’s very, very disappointing,” he says.

Armed with letters from constituents and his own daily experience driving through the congestion at the under-construction interchange, Moore is disappointed to hear that the project — originally expected to cost $18.5 million but now carrying a $33-million price tag — could now drag on until the spring of 2022 or even later.

Which is why, when Moore drives by the project now and sees workers, well, not working, it makes him seethe.

His frustration was on full display at a BCC meeting last month, when Moore delivered a blistering attack on the company, D.A.B. Constructors, Inc., in charge of the project.

Moore said he recently drove through the interchange and took pictures of the general malaise happening. He said he saw two workers standing next to a truck doing nothing, and a second group of construction workers standing on a hill.

“On a project of that magnitude, those are the only people I saw working on a Monday, a sunny Monday, at 1:30 in the afternoon,” Moore said. “I think that’s insane, that’s ridiculous, that’s embarrassing.”

More than 100,000 vehicles pass through the interchange on a daily basis. The eagerly-anticipated DDI is designed to create fewer conflict points at the interchange, and despite looking like a confusing, diamond-shaped jumble of roads in pictures, Florida’s first Diverging Diamond Interchange (at Exit 210 of I-75, in Sarasota) has been lauded for being safer and more efficient than your traditional junctions. 

Businesses Are Unhappy, Too

The Wesley Chapel DDI will be Florida’s second, and Moore isn’t the only one disappointed that it is so far behind schedule. 

In September, the Cypress Creek Town Center Property Owners Association (POA) — which includes the Tampa Premium Outlets, Costco and more than 20 other businesses located west of the interchange, sent a letter to Moore and District 3 Commissioner Kathryn Starkey expressing concern about the progress of the interchange.

The POA, which said it has spent $25 million over the last 15 years “reconstructing and widening miles 

of highway in the State Road 54/56 corridor” to offset the additional traffic the Town Center attracts, said it reached out to the Florida Department of Transportation when it was becoming clear that the project was falling behind schedule.

It asked FDOT to accelerate the DDI during Covid-19, due to the reduction of traffic, but were told material deliveries had hindered the project and that D.A.B. Constructors “did not feel any substantial gains could be made.”

The POA wrote to Moore and Starkey that they were told the project was at least 200 days behind schedule — pushing the completion date to late summer of 2022.

“It’s very unfortunate that this is happening,” said Comm. Starkey, “but at least FDOT is doing as much as they can to push it along.”

Pasco County has no control over state road projects like the DDI, but Moore and Starkey both reached out to David Gwynn, the FDOT secretary for District 7, after receiving the letter from that group of angry businesses.

FDOT has taken efforts to remedy the situation, and could impose more penalties. Gwynn wrote back to Moore telling him if D.A.B. Constructors can’t meet the contracted end date, “liquidated damages, of $9,837 a day, will be assessed for every day that the contractor is late in completing the project.”

That means that for every month they are behind schedule, D.A.B. Constructors would incur a $300,000 fine.

Pasco’s BCC chair Mike Moore says D.A.B. Constructors “can’t handle it” when it comes to finishing the diverging diamond project on time.

The DDI construction kicked off in early 2019, and had an original schedule of 800 days, resulting in a finish date of April 2021. That did account for delays due to rain and holidays (though not for something like Covid-19, which did cause delays for materials for many area projects).

Gwynn wrote that in roughly 20 months, D.A.B. Constructors had been granted 99 days for weather, 34 days of holiday time and 30 days for unforeseen conditions. All told, that added 163 days to the contract, changing the end date to August 26, 2021.

“Ninety-nine rain days? I don’t how that is, but okay, I guess?,” Moore said. “I guess if it sprinkles outside they don’t work?”

Moore also found 34 days off for holidays “extreme.”

Moore wants to see FDOT come down hard on D.A.B. Constructors, including fines and heavy pressure. He went as far as to suggest D.A.B. “sub out every little piece of the project going forward…cut their losses, and get out.”

He doesn’t want the company used on any more projects in Pasco County, where it is currently working on 10 other projects, including the widening of State Roads 54 and 52.

“They have so many projects going on right now they can’t handle it,” Moore says.

Starkey worried that any further delays could impact the traffic for yet another holiday season in 2021, further hurting businesses in the S.R. 56 corridor.

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