By Sean Bowes & Gary Nager
Things are looking better for S.R./C.R. 54 from west of I-75 to just east of Curley Rd (C.R. 577). After years of construction, congested traffic and millions of dollars spent, it finally looks like it will be smooth travels on a road which has been called Pasco County’s busiest.
All six lanes of the widened S.R. 54 are now open during peak travels, which are early in the morning and after 4 p.m. However, some lane closures should still be expected until the end of February. Pasco’s chief project manager Robert Shepherd says that the finishing touches from Pepper Contracting Services, the contracting company for the project, include laying a final layer of asphalt near the I-75 on-ramp and cleaning out storm drains on the roadside of S.R. 54.
“The ramp paving at I-75 would already be finished, but the colder weather prevented us from laying the top layer on those lanes,” Shepherd explained.
The original completion date for the widening project was April 2012.
However, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing since the road opened up to six lanes wide in December. Many drivers have complained about the merge from three lanes into one when approaching Curley Rd. Shepherd says that some drivers were not paying attention to the merger and ended up cutting people off that were either turning left on to Curley Rd. or continuing east on SR 54.
Officials say that there have not been any accidents related to the new merge lanes, but if drivers continue to illegally cross lanes, the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office will begin to enforce the area more heavily.
Most of the merging headaches came before the county laid down the final lane striping and merging signs.
“If drivers were watching the signs, we shouldn’t have a problem,” says Shepherd.
The area already is a hot spot for PCSO to scribble out speeding tickets. During construction, the speed limit dropped from 45mph to 35mph. At our press time, the 3.2-mile stretch was stilled zoned at 35 mph, but it should open back up to its original speed limit once the final phases of construction are completed.
State traffic counts from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) show that roughly 38,000 cars travel S.R./C.R. 54 between I-75 and Curley Rd. every day. The road has been Pasco County’s most expensive road project — $31 million for construction and planning and an additional $74.2 million spent on acquiring the right of way for the project from landowners along the route.
Bagelicious Owner Requests Median/Signal Changes
While most area residents are happy to see the construction come to an end, some of the businesses located in the Freedom Plaza on S.R. 54 are concerned about getting vehicles into and out of that plaza safely.
Linda Carr, the owner of Bagelicious & More in Freedom Plaza, appeared before the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT)’s Access Management Review Committe (AMRC) on January 25 to ask for an opening in the median that would allow vehicles heading west on 54 to turn left into the plaza. The committee denied that request for safety reasons on the 25th. Spokesperson Kris Carson says, however, that FDOT is still looking into Carr’s request to add a left/U- turn signal at the intersection of 54 and Vandine Rd., just west of the entrance to the plaza.
There is a designated left/U-turn lane at the intersection of 54 and Vandine, where westbound vehicles can make a U-turn, but without a left turn signal, Carr says most of her breakfast customers will find it too difficult to make that U-turn against fast-moving eastbound traffic. Carson says that FDOT is aware of Carr’s concerns and is considering adding a left turn signal at that location. She said she didn’t know, however, how soon a decision would be made. We’ll keep you posted.