by KENT E. SMITH
Any time a major highway is being rebuilt, folks always ask the same questions: How long will it take? How much will it cost?
Too often the answer is, “More than expected.”
Public Information Officer John McShaffrey of the Florida Department of Transportation handles such questions about the four-laning of County Road 578, better known as County Line Road dividing Hernando and Pasco counties. The road runs 10.8 miles from U.S. 19 to U.S. 41, but only about 20 percent has been four-laned and divided; the FDOT is planning three projects that will complete the four-laning with medians, and one of them is a year away from completion.
It’s the most complex of the three projects, and the only one that’s been funded. The Ayers Road Extension will actually create a new four-lane highway and 11-foot-wide multi-use path from the County Line-Suncoast Parkway intersection northeast two miles before turning due east 1 mile to intersect with 41 at the Ayers Road junction.
Here’s the scoop: The $39 million project is running within the budget and ahead of schedule. That’s $20.2 million for construction, $14.8 million to acquire right-of-way and $4 million for design.
“It’s been a great project so far. We haven’t had a lot of problems with the construction, and only $150,000 in costs for little things has been added by the builder,” McShaffrey said. “It’s actually ahead of scheduled completion, which is the summer of 2022. It will definitely be done early.”
The general contractor is Watson Civil Construction Inc. Based in St. Augustine, Watson handles large-scale infrastructure, underground, road and bridge work for state and local governments as well as private developers such as national home builders.
The alignment takes the new highway west and north of Masaryktown’s primary development, which is along 41 north of the County Line junction; officials noted the alignment increases the access to hundreds of homes in the upper-middle class Trillium subdivision, including construction of two new traffic lights.
The main entrance into Trillium from County Line Road will be closed until sometime this fall; the detour route has been in use since March 9.
Officials have not requested bids for the two remaining four-lane projects for County Line Road. That’s bad news for local motorists who find themselves waiting to get on or off the road during rush hour, like Scott Newman, a food-delivery driver who waited at the intersection of County Line Road and Waterfall Drive to get on 578 for 10 minutes during rush hour one day.
“This is really a bad situation for anybody trying to get onto County Line Road during rush hour. If they’re going to take their time four-laning the road they should at least put up a traffic light here to provide access,” he said. “This is really the only practical route to cross over into Pasco County from here.”
Hernando County Commissioner John Allocco couldn’t agree more. “County Line Road has been a major, major problem and priority for the county for years,” he said.
Besides a lack of traffic lights, the access problem is aggravated by a large number of commercial businesses along the road with driveways connected directly to 578 without any frontage roads in place.
The two projects coming in the future are:
* East Road to Springtime Street: Construction of this 2.7-mile project has not been funded, but the right-of-way acquisition will hit $51 million and the design cost is $2.3 million. The work will include four-laning and dividing the two-lane stretch with a median, along with a 5-foot-wide sidewalk on the north side of the road and a 12-foot-wide, shared-use path paved on the south side.
* Mariner Boulevard to Suncoast Parkway: This project’s construction also remains unfunded, but the right-of-way along this 3-mile section will cost roughly $31.8 million. Design costs are set at $2.8 million. This project will include the same improvements as the East Road to Springtime Street phase from just east of Mariner Boulevard to just west of the Suncoast Parkway. It will also include walkways on both sides and drainage facilities such as drains and retention ponds.
These two projects are being delayed while Hernando County officials search for ways to fund the work. According to FDOT spokeswoman Kris Carson these projects will be funded according to their priority set by the Metropolitan Planning Organizations for Pasco and Hernando counties. “Based on these priorities, these projects are not expected to be funded in the foreseeable future,” she stated, adding they’ve been placed “on hold since 2009.”
A separate portion of 578 east of U.S. 41 along Wilson Boulevard, Benes Road, Benes Roush Road and Philips Road to Ayers Road; the eastern portion of this stretch is unpaved. Other sections serve Dade City including Lock Street and St. Joe Road.
For more information contact the FDOT at (813) 975-6000 or visit fdottampabay.com; you can also contact Hernando County Public Works at (352) 754-4060.