By Matt Wiley

Construction is ahead of schedule on the I-75 widening project between Fowler Ave. and S.R. 56.
Construction is ahead of schedule on the I-75 widening project between Fowler Ave. and S.R. 56.

Although it may be holding up the completion of the Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd. widening from Pebble Creek Blvd. in New Tampa south to Palm Springs Blvd. in Tampa Palms, the I-75 widening project between Fowler Ave. and S.R. 56 actually is ahead of schedule.

Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) District 7 spokesman John McShaffrey says that the $95-million project, which Prince Contracting, LLC, began in October 2011 to widen the 11.4-mile section of the interstate from four lanes to six lanes — and eight lanes near the interchanges — is cruising right along.

“The whole project is well ahead of schedule,” McShaffrey explains. “If you go by (Prince’s) schedule, they’re more than 500 days ahead. It looks very likely that they are going to finish that job early, depending on how much rain we get.”

And, part of that project includes the new, widened overpasses above BBD, which could now be open to traffic in both directions in late November to early December, McShaffrey says.

“After that happens, (Prince) will take the temporary bridge out and do all of the BBD widening underneath,” McShaffrey explains. “There’s a lot that can’t be done (for the widening of BBD) right now because of the location of the support structures for the existing temporary bridge.”

However, he admits, the I-75 widening north of S.R. 56 is not moving nearly as quickly.

I-75 Work Creeps Along Between S.R.s 54 & 56

The contractor currently widening a separate portion of I-75 — from S.R. 56 to north of S.R. 54 in Wesley Chapel — is racking up quite a bill, as the company is being charged each day until the project, which already is about six months behind schedule, is completed.

The $22.8-million project to widen the 4.3-mile stretch of I-75 from four lanes to eight, which began in March 2011, will not be completed until around September, McShaffrey explains.

“The contractor is having difficulties with the project,” McShaffrey says of Better Roads, Inc. “(Better Roads, Inc.) is making progress on the project, but not to probably anybody’s satisfaction.”

McShaffrey says that a lack of resources in both personnel and equipment is to blame for the delay and that Better Roads is being assessed financial penalties of $5,809.88 per day while the project is still being built, since running out of the original number of contracted construction days. The fines would have begun in April, but the number of contract days had already been extended to June 1.

“Those financial penalties will accrue until the project is done,” he explains. “Even though they are working six days a week, they’re not working with (large) enough crews to get the project done in a timely manner.”

When Better Roads was awarded the project, the initial contract granted the company 565 days to complete the widening, but, in May, 138 additional days (which were negotiated for in the contract) were added to make up for weather delays, holidays and other time extensions, extending the total allowed number of days to 703.

McShaffrey also says that more days could still be added to make up for changed working conditions and additional work, but at our press time, Better Roads already could be assessed for 41 days of penalties. The total financial penalty will not be determined until the job is done.

McShaffrey says that when Better Roads won the contract, the company did have the resources to complete the project. He explains further that FDOT researched the company before the contract was awarded.

“They have to be in good standing with the State,” he says. “They have to meet certain qualifications and have the bonding capacity to take on the job, which they did, or it wouldn’t have been awarded to them. Sometime after getting the job and starting work on it, (Better Roads) got behind.”

Currently, the most work that still has to be done is on northbound I-75 in front of the rest area, about three miles north of the S.R. 56 interchange and a mile or so south of the S.R. 54 interchange. Northbound traffic currently still is being shifted to the widened southbound lanes. McShaffrey estimates that, at our press time, the project was about 90-percent finished.

“They’ve got a large amount of the project done, and it won’t take a lot to finish it up,” McShaffrey explains. “But, it will take a commitment (from Better Roads) to continue working out there and that’s what we’re looking for. We hope (the completion date) ends up being sooner rather than later. It’s an important part of the road.”

At our press time, Better Roads, Inc., had not returned calls for comment.

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