By Matt Wiley | June 8
Despite the recent widening of S.R. 54 between I-75 and Curley Rd., traversing S.R. 54 can be a challenge once the busy roadway slims down to two lanes east of Curley Rd. However, what poses an even greater challenge right now is widening the two-lane portion of 54 to a four-lane divided highway, while appeasing public opinion in communities where access could potentially be restricted by medians.
Inside the sanctuary of Atonement Lutheran Church, located on S.R. 54, on the evening of May 9, Wesley Chapel and Zephyrhills residents crowded around large boards displaying aerial views of the future of this portion of S.R. 54: a four lane divided road stretching 4.5 miles from Curley Rd. east to Morris Bridge Rd. The 1.4-mile section from Curley Rd. to Foxwood Blvd. also will include an auxiliary lane in each direction, expanding S.R. 54 to a six-lane divided road.
The project, which is estimated to cost about $37.8-million and funded by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), also will include four-foot-wide bike lanes, as well as a five-foot-wide sidewalk on one side and an eight-foot-wide paved walking path along S.R. 54 from Curley Rd. to Morris Bridge Rd.
The FDOT public meeting was the first glimpse for most residents of the potential design of this section of the widened road. The design of the roadway, which is about 60-percent complete, provided a first-hand look for residents at how access to communities and businesses along S.R. 54 could be affected by the project.
“We do these meetings for the public every so often to get their input,” said FDOT District 7 spokeswoman Kris Carson. “Tonight, the biggest issue has been medians and access. We’re just trying to let the public know what the design looks like. We can accommodate some requests, especially for businesses, but there are median spacing rules for safety.”
While access to some communities and businesses may become more convenient, with turn lanes and breaks in the median, the opposite also is true for others, as access could become more difficult, in many cases requiring a U-turn for traffic heading in one direction to be able to head the other way.
In the current plans, on the south side of S.R. 54, communities that will experience a change in access include Ashley Pines at Smith Rd.; Country Crossings at Foxwood Blvd.; the Brookshire Estates at Brook Manor Dr.; the neighborhoods at Linda Dr. and Ernest Dr. and the new Ashton Oaks community at Ashton Oaks Blvd.
The change in access options will restrict residents to a right-turn-in, right-turn- out onto eastbound S.R. 54. However, left turn lanes are included into the communities from westbound S.R. 54.
Although FDOT is showing plans to the public for the project as it continues to work to finalize those plans during the next several months, Carson says that the project isn’t expected to be put out for construction bidding until the summer of 2015, with construction potentially beginning that fall.
Zephyrhills resident Arthur Glennon said was neither surprised by the design, nor disappointed. “(S.R. 54) is just like other roads,” he said. “The widening has been a long time coming. It should’ve been done a long time ago. The medians will make driving safer. It might take a little longer to make a turn, but that’s the price of safety.”
However, not everyone in attendance shared Glennon’s opinion.
“They don’t have many answers,” said Stacy Obney, an Ashton Oaks resident who will potentially have to make a U-turn after leaving her community to head west toward I-75 on S.R. 54. “I don’t understand how they can use traffic numbers from 2009 for a 2015 project.”
Carson explains that the traffic-projection numbers come from years of traffic data collection from past and present that allow FDOT to plan for projects as far in the future as 2035.
Many businesses may experience access changes, as well, including Trinity Church, located on the north side of S.R. 54, just east of the Hamilton Park community. The church also will fall victim to the right-turn-in, right-turn-out access change.
“We’ll have to wait and see what happens,” said Dave Huff, a Trinity Church member. “Getting into the church will be easy, but getting out will be more difficult. Either way, the road definitely needs (to be widened).”