By Matt Wiley

Gusts of wind blow through the breezeway of the recently opened northbound I-75 rest area between S.R 56 and S.R. 54, as representatives of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) show off the final plans for the I-75 and I-275 widening projects, which have been under way for a more than a year now.

During the FDOT Open House on May 22, the public was given a peek at the projects that can currently be seen as construction along the sides of both busy interstates. Although there was not a formal presentation, several projects were on display in the form of presentation boards that gave aerial views of what the future of the interstates will look like.

“We usually have (these open houses) after construction begins,” said FDOT spokesperson John McShaffrey. “Once construction starts, the projects become more ‘real’ to folks.”

The biggest project on display was the widening of the 11.4-mile stretch of I-75 from south of Fowler Ave. to S.R. 56 from four lanes on each side to six lanes in both directions. In addition, to make it easier for drivers to merge onto the interstates, the sections near the interchanges of Fowler, Fletcher and BBD will be widened to eight lanes. The $95-million project began in October of 2011 and should be finished by the spring of 2016. McShaffrey said that this project is going to be completed before it was initially slated to begin, as it was not in the five-year plan.

According to FDOT, in addition to widening the interstate, the project also includes improvements to lighting and drainage, resurfacing of existing lanes, construction of retention ponds and the installation of Intelligent Transportation System components including cameras, vehicle detectors and message signs to give important information to drivers.

Another project that was on display was the widening of I-75 from south of S.R. 56 to north of C.R. 54, in which the 4.3-mile stretch of interstate is being widened from its current four lanes total to four lanes in each direction (eight total). The $22.5-million project began in March of 2011 and should be completed by the end of the year, concurrent with the completion of the work on both the C.R. 54 and S.R. 56 interchanges.

Information also was provided on currently unfunded projects which will, in the future, widen I-75 to at least three lanes in both directions all the way north, through both Pasco and Hernando Counties, to the Florida Turnpike. Since they are unfunded, these projects will be added to the FDOT’s “five-year work plan” only as funding becomes available. McShaffrey said that the funding for these interstate projects has come from “gas taxes.”

As far as I-275 is concerned, the 5.7-mile stretch between Bearss Ave. and the apex with I-75 interchange is being widened to three lanes in each direction. The $20.6-million project began in January 2011 and is on schedule for a fall 2012 completion.

For more informatio about these projects, please visit DOT.State.FL.US.

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