By Sean Bowes

Drivers (and their pets) traveling back and forth between New Tampa and Wesley Chapel on I-75 are now welcome to check out the new rest areas now open in each direction.

On December 23, the two rest areas on I-75, between S.R. 56 (Exit 275) and S.R./C.R. 54 (Exit 279) reopened for public use. These new facilities replace the former buildings located on the same land; reconstruction of the sites began in July 2010.

“The old facilities weren’t in very good shape,” says Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) spokesman John McShaffery. “The parking was inadequate. It wasn’t up to standards and it just couldn’t hand the volume of traffic.”

Both of the rest areas features great amenities such as two small, fenced-in dog parks, night time security and a variety of coffee and vending machines, including one that dispenses ice cream.

Basically, they’re now what rest areas should be — safe areas with plenty of parking, lots of options for snacks and spotless bathrooms.

“The bathrooms were very clean,” confirmed Gina Lupton of New York, who stopped at the rest stop on her way down to Naples.

All of Florida’s interstate rest areas are open and maintained 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The new rest areas, which have been designated as smoke-free facilities, also offer a walking trail, where travelers are welcome to take their pets for a stroll. There also is preferred parking for vehicles which use alternative fuel sources, like electric cars, hybrids or ones that run on vegetable oil. FDOT officials also are waiting to see if the the rest areas will earn the certification of a being a “Green Building” from the Green Building certification Institute.

Both facilities salvaged materials from the old buildings and were outfitted with energy-efficient light bulbs, hand dryers and even faucets.

According to McShaffery, the combined cost for both facilities was $25.1 million. He adds that although the rest areas are open to the public, some minor construction work remains. This may periodically limit access to some areas of the buildings, parking lots and other areas until it is entirely completed.

The rest areas were rebuilt to provide additional truck parking, add more restroom facilities and to to meet travelers’ needs for over 30 years, said a statement from the FDOT.

FDOT anticipates construction for both rest areas to be complete no later than the end of February. Cone and Graham, Inc. of Tampa completed all of the work on the projects.

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