By Gary Nager

It can’t be soon enough for Wesley Chapel residents who live or work near S.R./C.R. 54 from west of I-75 to just east of Curley Rd., but the good news from the Pasco County Project Management-Design department is that the widening of S.R./C.R. 54 is expected to be completed and open to the public by the first week in December.

“Yes, we’re expecting to give everyone an early Christmas present by having that project done on or around December 7,” said John J. Chiarelli, P.E., from Pasco Project Management.

At least 50 interested area residents and business people attended the fifth and final public information meeting on the S.R. 54 project, which was held at Atonement Lutheran Church on S.R. 54 on September 8. “Despite some recent bad weather, we are proud to say this project will be completed ahead of schedule.”

Chiarelli, county engineering services director James Widman and Pasco’s construction engineering manager Robert Shepherd were all on hand at the meeting to not only announce the expected completion date, but also to thank contractor Pepper Contracting Services and design consultant Reynolds, Smith & Hills and take questions from the audience regarding this and other road projects in and around Wesley Chapel.

“This is the only remaining active project we have in the Wesley Chapel area,” Chiarelli said, “although the Florida Department of Transportation is also widening I-75 in this area…We also are working on the design and right of way acquisition for the project known as the Zephyrhills Bypass,” which is a project that runs parallel to S.R. 54 that will provide another east-west access to Handcart Rd. (Morris Bridge Rd.) north of S.R. 54.

Widman said that the Bypass project had to be put off because his department’s budget was slashed from about $110 million to $25 million per year because of the economy.

“We were negotiating the final contract with the developer (of New River Township; the Bypass runs through the New River Development of Regional Impact) to have them do the project themselves,” Widman said. “That is a high-priority project for us.”


A Little Pat On The Back

Among those on hand at the meeting was District 2 Pasco County commissioner Pat Mulieri, who took the opportunity to tout Wesley Chapel, which is located entirely within her district, as Pasco’s current and future economic engine — and to thank everyone who has worked on the S.R. 54 project.

“When citizens and government work together, good things happen,” Mulieri told the crowd. “We listened (to your concerns about the project) and we responded to the public!”

Mulieri noted that although the businesses along S.R. 54 and Bruce B. Downs Blvd. have taken a beating during the construction, “This area, with the new hospital (Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel), PHCC (a planned campus of Pasco-Hernando Community College), The Grove, the Shops at Wiregrass, has such synergy that it will be the catalyst for great things.”

Mulieri added that Pepper Contracting, which is finishing the project 60 to 100+ days ahead of schedule (there were $5 million in items added after the original contract was signed that could have extended the contract by another 45 days), “has done a great job.” One particularly happy resident added, “If they don’t already, Pepper should get ALL of these contracts from now on!”

Although most residents in attendance were happy to hear that the project was going to b completed sooner than later, there’s no doubt the construction has created some concerns.

Several residents expressed concerns about flooding along the length of the project, particularly around the Publix/Hollybrook Plaza entrance just east of BBD on 54, and around Wesley Chapel Loop. Shepherd and Widman agreed that most of the flooding was caused by the construction itself and said the completion of the project would allow the area to drain more normally. They added that the county and Pepper would be able to correct the problem after the project was completed, if it was still warranted.

Other concerns expressed were about the timing of the traffic signals on 54, particularly around I-75, but Shepherd promised that when completed, all of the signals the length of this project will be “synched up” by a video camera system.

The S.R. 54 project cost more than $60 million, but the right of way purchases along the length of this route cost $75 million.

Mulieri also mentioned that the Wesley Chapel area will soon have buses picking up at The Grove and hooking up with HARTLine to take residents into and from Tampa. “It will start in January,” she said.

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